- Zhong Nanshan is one of two leading medical figures to tell Chinese state media that wave of infections will abate quickly, but public health expert in Hong Kong disagrees
- Dean of Hong Kong University's medical school expects outbreak to peak in April or May
China's leading expert on severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) has said that the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak would not last as long as the 2002-2003 Sars epidemic, and could peak within the next week-and-a-half.
"That year, Sars lasted for almost five or six months, but I don't believe that the new coronavirus will be able to continue for that long," said Zhong Nanshan in an interview with state news agency Xinhua on Tuesday.
"That's because after the third wave of infections started, the country took strong measures, especially early detection and early isolation. After doing these two things, we have enough confidence to prevent another peak."
In the interview, Zhong, the director of the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, estimated that the peak of the outbreak could arrive within the next seven-to-10 days. His perspective was shared by a government epidemiologist, but a public health expert in Hong Kong has taken a longer view.
"It is very difficult to determine when the outbreak will reach its peak. However, I estimate that it will reach its peak in around the next week or 10 days, after that there will be no more major increases," said Zhong, who played a pivotal role in China's response to the Sars epidemic and is leading a team of government-appointed experts to manage the present outbreak.
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection in mainland China has reached 5,974, health authorities said on Wednesday. That surpassed Sars (5,327 cases in mainland China), an epidemic that killed more than 600 people worldwide.
The death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus has risen to 132, authorities said, with cases confirmed in 12 other countries.
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Zhong's estimate echoed that of Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, who said he was "optimistic" that the outbreak's "turning point" could arrive by February 8 if current disease control protocol is maintained.
"If we stick to the current measures, we should see a turning point in the near future. Everyone predicts that the situation can improve by the time of the Lantern Festival (on February 8)," said Gao in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday.
"I am personally optimistic, and I believe that (it will improve) earlier than this, but everyone must stick to the prevention and control measures."
Gao added that he believed the current measures were working, as the number of suspected cases was decreasing.
However, public health experts in Hong Kong predicted that the outbreak could take much longer to reach its peak and may last until the summer.
Gabriel Leung, dean of Hong Kong University's medical school, said on Monday that the outbreak was expected to peak in April or May in five major Chinese cities " Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou " before the number of infections could begin to gradually decline in June or July.
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He and his team of experts also estimated that up to 44,000 people could be infected in Wuhan alone, with only 25,000 likely to be showing symptoms at this time.
Leung urged the Hong Kong government to take "substantial and draconian measures" to limit population mobility.
A number of countries and territories have denied entry to travellers from Hubei province. Hong Kong announced on Tuesday that it would suspend new visas for individual mainland tourists from Thursday, accounting for half of all cross-border visitors to the city.
Cross-border flight numbers will be cut by half and bus services will be restricted, while cross-border rail services have been closed, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor.
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