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Global Times

COVID-19 pandemic just started, hard to see end: Chinese epidemiologist

Global Times

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/24 19:32:31

The global COVID-19 pandemic has just started, and it's too early to predict when it will come to an end, a senior epidemiologist from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday, who gave an estimate based on China's experience.

Such a situation is mainly a result of many Western countries' trust in luck and reliance on theory in epidemic fight, he said.

Zeng Guang, the CDC expert, noted that China took the strictest measures including lockdown and stopping of all business when there were only a few hundred cases, but the number still grew to more than 80,000 due to the disease's high transmission rate, infectiousness and long incubation period.

There are almost 300,000 cases outside China, and some 26 countries have reported with more than 1,000 infections. Even if the globe adopts China's measures, the infection number will grow many times the current figure, Zeng said.

It took 67 days for the first 100,000 infections to appear, 11 days for the next 100,000 and only four days for the figure to reach 300,000. The next 100,000 might only take two to three days or even less, Zeng said.

China's decisiveness in the early stages of the COVID-19 epidemic came from the trauma of SARS, but that experience doesn't apply in data prediction as SARS had a lower transmission rate despite its high mortality rate, Zeng said.

Zeng noted that China cannot be settled if the world cannot defeat COVID-19. "We cannot say it's a victory if there is one infection in any country in the world," he said.

Other countries may trust in luck from their experience with the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, believing the disease will finally be brought under control without taking strict measures. In contrast, China "overreacted" in 2009, which served as a public mobilization drill for all-round control and prevention in the face of a massive outbreak, Zeng said.

Western countries have ignored China and WHO advice, which shows they cannot learn epidemic control from another country but only from own real pain and experience, Zeng said, noting South Korea may have learned its lesson from MERS.

Zeng also stressed that many American experts rely more on theories and data simulations, affecting their policy-making, which he dubbed "sofa epidemiology." Some epidemiologists surrendered immediately in front of a real outbreak when there was still a chance of curbing the spread of the disease through human interference.

China's practical strategy is bringing the epidemic to a controllable level and spare time for the research and development of vaccine, while a "herd immunity" strategy without any action will cost huge numbers of lives.

Zeng also noted that although a SARS vaccine did not go into final production due to the disappearance of the disease, the early-stage research prepared China to accelerate its vaccine research for COVID-19. "Safety is the priority for vaccine development, which must not be hasty," he said.

Although Western countries were tightening their policies, Zeng was afraid that for many it might be too late.

He also noted that the US CDC did not perform its duties this time. The US and Chinese CDCs lacking academic exchanges due to budget cuts implemented by the Trump administration could be a reason, Zeng said.

Early testing and early response are key to controlling domestic outbreaks, which means many developing countries in Asia and Africa still have a window of opportunity if they react in a timely manner, Zeng said, citing the contrast between the severe situation in some Western countries due to lax measures despite China's warning and many Asian countries becoming alert early facing a moderate situation as an example.

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