Now that health officials in China have admitted that patients infected with the novel coronavirus often become contagious long before symptoms emerge, and Canada may or may not have just confirmed its first case of human-to-human transmission, health officials around the world are finally listening to some of the experts who warned about the virus's lethal potential (and were rewarded with accusations of being an alarmist).
And nowhere is that advice being followed more closely than Hong Kong, where the city government has already inspired riots after considering using a new public housing project as a quarantine for virus victims.
The pushback to that plan was surprising and appears to be an isolated incident. Because University of Hong Kong academics are urging the city's government to embrace "draconian" measures to stop history from repeating itself.
Hong Kong was rocked by SARS 17 years ago, when the virus - one of seven coronavirus strains (a family that also includes nCoV and MERS) - tore through the city's financial district, causing 300 deaths, according to the SCMP.
As we mentioned earlier, the dean of HKU's med school revealed research during a presser on Monday showing that the virus had already infected nearly 44,000 people in Wuhan. Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson, at least the second UK academic to publicly share his projections, said over the weekend that 100,000 people could already be infected with the virus around the world, according to the Guardian.
Lead researcher and dean of HKU’s faculty of medicine Gabriel Leung said their models indicated that the number of cases in China would double in 6.2 days. Officials around the world have only confirmed 2901 cases so far, while 2839 of those are in Mainland China.
Leung's remarks were captured in a twitter thread.
HKU Med School head Gabriel Leung apologised again for his inappropriate comment made on Friday that he and officials couldn’t speak with mask on . pic.twitter.com/qRDsr3O2h3— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) January 27, 2020
Key takeaway so far— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) January 27, 2020
1, Wuhan is estimated to have over 25,000 confirmed cases and over 43,000 infections
2, Wuhan lockdown doesn’t really help to stop spreading in other major cities in China
3, Chongqing can be the most affected,followed by Beijing Shanghai Guangzhou Shenzhen
4, April and May can see major outbreaks in the aforementioned four major cities. It may come one to two weeks earlier in Chongqing.— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) January 27, 2020
5, HK and Macau should not only look at directly traffic links with Wuhan (!)
“the Hong Kong government should...not really sort of go and answer the question should we do more about more Chinese major metropolises ... but rather how can we sustain Hong Kong food supply, Hong Kong's ability and capacity to deal with a major epidemic.“ - Prof Gabriel Leung.— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) January 27, 2020
Among other things, Leung said sustained human-to-human transmission has already been proven.
"We have to be prepared, that this particular epidemic may be about to become a global epidemic," he said.
Though Leung warned that additional measures to contain the virus could improve projections, the team’s model predicted the number of infections in five mainland megacities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing – would peak between late April and early May, and at the peak of the pandemic, as many as 150,000 new cases could be confirmed every day in Chongqing - China's At the height of the epidemic, as many as 150,000 new cases would be confirmed every day in Chongqing alonebecause of its large population and intense travel volume with Wuhan.
Since Leung sits on Carrie Lam's advisory committee, he said he would encourage "draconian" steps to stop the virus, including a travel lockdown, cancellation of all public gatherings, and forcing all companies to come up with work-from-home arrangements.
"Substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility should be taken immediately," he said, calling for the cancellation of mass gatherings, along with school closures and work-from-home arrangements.
Possibly with an eye toward Beijing, Leung called on the government to take "one, two, three or more steps" to broaden the scope of the border closure.
Before we go, it's time for an admittedly macabre round of 'point-counterpoint'. Some experts claim the virus's lethal capacity is being exaggerated by the fact that there are probably hundreds or maybe thousands of Chinese who got the virus, but managed to tough it out on their own instead of seeking medical care. Others warn that at least some who were turned away from hospitals, or chose to never seek treatment out of fear, might have met an unfortunate fate.
Point: "There are many many more thousands of people in China who have gotten sick, just stayed home, gotten rest under comfy blankets, got better after a week, and are just fine. But they aren't counted because they didn't go to the hospital. This inflates the lethality rate."
Counterpoint: "There are many more Chinese rotting in their apartments who died weeks ago but haven't been counted"
Of course, nothing would put the market's mind at ease like a vaccine. That's why drug stocks have surged on Monday. In the meantime, some doctors are treating the illness with retrovirals used to combat AIDS. Still, experts are estimating a vaccine could take one-to-three months to develop.
HK wouldn't be alone in taking extreme measures to stop the virus. Taiwan over the weekend announced it would bar all visitors from mainland China.
At one point, a guest who appeared on CNBC Monday said investors should take the figures released by China and multiply those numbers by ten to arrive at the true statistics.
Speaking of draconian measures, the Philippines has taken the most drastic step so far: According to media reports, it's preparing to deport 500 Chinese to try and stop the virus's spread.
Now, imagine if Trump tried to do something like evicting all Chinese nationals traveling in the US...