On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that the mortality rate from the Wuhan Coronavirus (formally known as 2019 nCoV) is 3.4% globally.
But surely, you say, the Coronavirus is not as contagious as the Spanish Flu …
Unfortunately, it’s more contagious. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy notes:
Based on calculations, the authors of the larger study estimate the novel coronavirus has an R0 of 2.2, meaning each case patient could infect more than 2 other people. If accurate, this makes the 2019 nCoV more infectious than the 1918 influenza pandemic virus, which had an R0 of 1.80 (interquartile range: 1.47 to 2.27).
WHO says that the R0 of Coronavirus in China was initially between 2 and 2.5.< But scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory said that the R0 for the Coronavirus is actually between 4.7 to 6.6 (although that number drops to between 2.3 and 3 after quarantines and social distancing are implemented).
According to the Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others, Coronavirus can be spread even when people have no symptoms. On the one hand, this is bad news, as it is very hard to screen and locate carriers when they are symptom-free or have only mild, cold or flu-like symptoms.
On the other hand, this means that the real R0 might be much higher than WHO estimates … which would make the mortality rate lower.
If the number of people with Coronavirus is a lot higher than is being reported, that means the mortality is a lot lower … i.e. a smaller percentage of the larger population of people infected have died.
Indeed, China only tests a portion of those who are really sick, and the United States has tested less than 500 people total for Coronavirus (American doctors have to beg to get their sick patients tested).
So far, WHO has rejected the theory that there are more people who have Coronavirus than reported:
One of the hopes of people watching China’s coronavirus outbreak was that the alarming picture of its lethality is probably exaggerated because a lot of mild cases are likely being missed.
But on [February 25th], a World Health Organization expert suggested that does not appear to be the case. Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to learn about the virus and China’s response, said the specialists did not see evidence that a large number of mild cases of the novel disease called Covid-19 are evading detection.
But one can’t assess whether mild cases are being missed without a widespread testing program. Especially since many cases are mild, and some cases are wholly asymptomatic.
The bottom line is that we don’t yet have the core data we need to determine how lethal the Coronavirus is. The mortality data isn't clear, and there is active debate about it.
Our best bet at reaching an accurate estimate may be to follow what’s happening in South Korea. As of last week, South Korea had already tested 66,652 people for Coronavirus. And it’s testing more than 10,000 new people a day.
South Korea also has a modern healthcare system.
So keeping track of the mortality rate in South Korea will be a good indicator of the real lethality of this virus.
One other thing to note is that - so far - the Coronavirus mainly seems to kill the elderly and those with preexisting conditions like diabetes. On the other hand, the second wave of the Spanish Flu killed many young, healthy people.
Postscript: Some have claimed that Asians are more vulnerable to Coronavirus than other races. However, I wrote to the international agency which is claimed to have gathered the data, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EMI), which hosts the 1000 Genomes Project. Paul Flicek – Associate Director and Senior Scientist and Head of Genes, Genomes & Variation Services at EMBL-EMI explained to me that the data was hogwash. In any event, given that Italians, Americans and others are dying of the Coronavirus, I don’t know why people keep claiming that Asians are more vulnerable.