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Dr. Bruce Aylward Reports on China’s Novel Coronavirus Response

During a two-week visit to China in early February for the World Health Organization, Dr. Bruce Aylward saw how China rapidly suppressed the coronavirus outbreak that had engulfed Wuhan, and was threatening the rest of the country.

Do we know what this virus’s lethality is? We hear some estimates that it’s close to the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed 2.5 percent of its victims, and others that it’s a little worse than the seasonal flu, which kills only 0.1 percent. How many cases are missed affects that.

There’s this big panic in the West over asymptomatic cases. Many people are asymptomatic when tested, but develop symptoms within a day or two. In Guangdong, they went back and retested 320,000 samples originally taken for influenza surveillance and other screening. Less than 0.5 percent came up positive, which is about the same number as the 1,500 known Covid cases in the province. There is no evidence that we’re seeing only the tip of a grand iceberg, with nine-tenths of it made up of hidden zombies shedding virus. What we’re seeing is a pyramid: most of it is above-ground. Once we can test antibodies in a bunch of people, maybe I’ll be saying, “Guess what? Those data didn’t tell us the story.” But the data we have now don’t support it.

That’s good, if there’s little asymptomatic transmission. But it’s bad in that it implies that the death rates we’ve seen — from 0.7 percent in parts of China to 5.8 percent in Wuhan — are correct, right?

I’ve heard it said that “the mortality rate is not so bad because there are actually way more mild cases.” Sorry — the same number of people that were dying, still die. The real case fatality rate is probably what it is outside Hubei Province, somewhere between 1 and 2 percent.

Read the full interview by Donald G. McNeil Jr. at New York Times


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