THE coronavirus outbreak could be 10 times worse than the SARS epidemic that killed 800, an expert has warned.

Leading virologist Dr Guan Yi has told Chinese media that the situation in Wuhan is already “uncontrollable”.

 Chinese passengers, most wearing masks, arrive to board trains before the annual Spring Festival at a Beijing railway station amid the coronavirus outbreak

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Chinese passengers, most wearing masks, arrive to board trains before the annual Spring Festival at a Beijing railway station amid the coronavirus outbreakCredit: Getty Images – Getty

He said that he had travelled to the city – where the virus originated – but left feeling “powerless” and “very angry” by the situation.

Dr Guan, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Hong Kong, was part of the team that identified the strain that caused the deadly SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003.

Most [viruses] are controllable, but this time I am scared

Dr Guan Yiprofessor of infectious disease at the University of Hong Kong

In an interview with Chinese news outlet Caixin, he claimed the Chinese authorities had missed the “golden period” in which the virus could have been prevented from spreading.

He said: “I have experienced so much and never felt scared. Most [viruses] are controllable, but this time I am scared.”


What we know so far

  • Experts have warned the virus could be as deadly as the post WWI Spanish flu which killed millions
  • The virus has spread to Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong and the US
  • Latest analysis by Chinese scientists suggests virus passed from bats to snake then humans
  • Wuhan in lockdown for a month as public transport and people told to avoid crowd

Dr Guan also expressed fears that “much more” people from Wuhan had been infected by the new coronavirus than the total number of cases of SARS.

The nine-month outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, killed almost 800 and sickened 8,000 between 2002 and 2003.

Dr Guan and his team were the first to identify track the SARS coronavirus back to its source – a native species of wild cat known as masked palm civets.

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He also took the lead in encouraging the government to ban wildlife markets, which ultimately prevented a second outbreak of the virus.

But experts in the UK say that China has taken a much more rapid approach in responding to the new coronavirus compared with SARS.

Prof Paul Hunter, from the Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, said: “Since the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003 the response of the Chinese authorities has been very different.

“The authorities have been much more open about the outbreak, investigated the infection much more rapidly and thoroughly and shared that information with the international community.”

Since the SARS epidemic the response of the Chinese authorities has been very different

Prof Paul HunterNorwich Medical School

He also said they had initiated very strong control measures in affected cities and the virus had been identified substantially earlier in this epidemic.

Prof Hunter added: “As a result of this increased openness and better management in neighbouring countries should be able to prepare well in advance of any cases that may arrive on their shores.”

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu.

The virus attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.

There is no vaccine for coronavirus.

In 2003 an outbreak of a similar virus, SARS, infected more than 8,000 people in 37 countries before it was brought under control, killing 800 of those worldwide.

The new coronavirus, named 2019 n-CoV, emerged only a few weeks ago and remains poorly understood.

So far, at least 17 people have died in China and more than 600 people infected worldwide.

Some experts believe it may have spread to humans from snakes or bats at a seafood market in Wuhan.

The city is now in lockdown in a bid to stop the spread, but Dr Guan doubts whether it will have any effect claiming that the sources of infection had “spread out completely”.

Cases have been reported in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

High alert

Four people in Britain are being treated for suspected coronavirus after flying from Wuhan.

The patients are being treated at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital after arriving in the UK via London.

They reported suffering flu-like symptoms and respiratory difficulties, however, tests haven’t ruled out the killer illness.

Symptoms of coronavirus include a fever, cough and trouble breathing – but some patients have developed life-threatening pneumonia.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission.

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Three research teams are to start work on developing a vaccine, a global coalition set up to fight diseases said.

Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday and people were told not to leave.

Hours later, neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

Where did coronavirus start? From bats to snakes – the theories on deadly virus’ origins

The killer coronavirus was spread from bats to snakes to humans, experts have claimed.

An outbreak of the virus is understood to have started at an open air fish market in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which has since been put in lockdown after 25 people died and more than 600 people were infected globally.

A new study published in the China Science Bulletin this week claimed that the new coronavirus shared a strain of virus found in bats.

Previous deadly outbreaks of SARS and Ebola were also believed to have originated in the flying mammal.

Experts had thought the new virus wasn’t capable of causing an epidemic as serious as those outbreaks because its genes were different.

But this latest research appeared to prove otherwise – as scientists scrabble to produce a vaccine.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.”

Meanwhile, scientists at Peking University also claim that the deadly virus was passed to humans from bats – but say it was through a mutation in snakes.

The researchers said that the new strain is made up of a combination of one that affects bats and another unknown coronavirus.

They believe that combined genetic material from both bats and this unknown strain picked up a protein that allows viruses bind to certain host cells – including those of humans.

After analysing the genes of the strains the team found that snakes were susceptible to the most similar version of the coronavirus.

It meant that they likely provided a “reservoir” for the viral strain to grow stronger and replicate.

Snakes are sold at the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan and may have jumped to other animals before passing to humans, they claim.

But a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who asked not to be named, said the findings should be treated with caution.

He told the South China Morning Post: “It is based on calculation by a computer model.

“Whether it will match what happens in real life is inconclusive.

“The binding protein is important, but it is just one of the many things under investigation. There may be other proteins involved.”

The expert believes that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative in Beijing, said.

The WHO will decide later today whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.

Increased chance coronavirus will come to UK from China but NHS is ready, says Matt Hancock





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