The new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has a lower severity than SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) but a greater transmission power due to the short generation time, a local medical team said.
The National Medical Center’s central clinical task force for the 2019-nCoV infection said Korean patients infected with the new coronavirus showed different clinical developments from those of their Chinese counterparts, during a briefing at the NMC on Friday.
Bang Ji-hwan, leader of the NMC’s task force, presumed that China’s Hubei Province must be suffering a breakdown of the healthcare system because of the surge in confirmed patients in a short time. As patients with severe symptoms could not receive timely treatment, the death toll must have risen quickly in China, he said.
In Korea, however, urgent patients can visit the emergency center immediately and the nation has an advanced medical delivery system, Bang noted.
“The clinical task force discussed the status of domestic patients with the new coronavirus infection and found that their clinical symptoms were not severe,” he said.
Bang emphasized that although the novel coronavirus had low severity, people should pay attention to how contagious the virus is. He mentioned “R0,” or an estimated reproductive rate of how many people may contract the virus from one infected person.
During the SARS outbreak, R0 was estimated to be 3, and MERS, R0 was 4 in hospitals, and 0.6 elsewhere, he said. “R0 of the new coronavirus is mostly estimated to be around 2, although experts have different opinions,” Bang said. This means that an infected person could spread the virus to two people.
People might wonder why the new coronavirus spreads so quickly even if the estimated R0 is lower than that of SARS, and this was because of its short generation time, Bang explained.
“Generation time is the time between the occurrence of the first patient and that of the second, and the occurrence of the second and that of the third. The shorter the generation time, the faster an infectious disease spreads,” he said.
Kim Woo-joo, a professor of the Infectious Disease Department at Korea University Guro Hospital, also stressed the significance of R0.
“R0 is not fixed. In a collective environment, the number could go up. We saw this during the MERS outbreak when many patients contracted the virus in hospitals,” Kim said.
In the initial stage of the new coronavirus outbreak, experts said its R0 was higher than that of MERS and lower than that of SARS.
Now, however, Chinese and British experts said the new coronavirus’ R0 is estimated to be between 1.5 and 3.5, which is higher than initially expected.
To end the spread of the novel coronavirus, R0 should come down to below 1, Kim said. If a confirmed patient fails to spread the virus to one person, the outbreak will fade away, he added.
“If we can shorten the time between the beginning of a patient’s symptoms and the quarantine of the confirmed patient, we will reduce secondary infection and push R0 down below 1,” he emphasized.
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