Can the Novel Coronavirus Become a Pandemic

If you’ve been on Twitter then you’ve seen the discourse.  Misinformed comments such as, “I don’t need to worry.  I had my flu shot.”  To the alternate panic-driven extreme, “We’re all going to die.”  The truth lies somewhere in between when it comes to the Novel Coronavirus.

Facts about the Coronavirus are emerging gradually as science begins to untie the knot of misinformation and lack of information. 

Available at The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, is solid data along with the facts based on the first cohort of 41 patients.  Data has been shared openly by The Lancet for the purpose of research and knowledge extension.

Based on research through this and other reputable sites, and statements from epidemiologists like Dr. Eric Ding, the R0 value of the Novel Coronavirus is somewhere between 2.6 and 2.9.  What this simply means is that each person who has the virus will transmit the virus to 2.6 people.  Each of those 2.6 people then continue to transmit the virus to an additional 2.6 people and you can see how quickly the virus can spread in a susceptible population.

The virus is new (novel), which means nobody has immunity and little is understood about its potential to mutate as it moves through the population.

Predicting the spread of Coronavirus in China
Prediction based on R0 value of 2.6

Based on the number of confirmed cases coming out of China (Jan 27th, 2,825 confirmed cases) and with an R0 value of 2.6, this means that by the middle of March more than 2.2 Million people, yes that’s million, will be infected in China alone, based on a 7 day incubation period.  A pandemic indeed.

Of course, there are caveats, managing the spread with good infection control measures will reduce the R0.  Any change in the initial data of confirmed cases as reported by China will affect the predicted outcomes, worsening the number of cases if the original reporting was softened.

And what of the latest development that the virus can be transmitted by hosts who are asymptomatic.  Yet we have people who have been in Wuhan and other cities in China where there are confirmed cases, still stepping off planes in North America and elsewhere. 

At the Toronto airport a self-reporting system is in place.  Yet public health leaders believe this is adequate.  Although the one individual who stepped off a plane in Toronto while infected with the Coronavirus acted responsibly by self-reporting, it does not mean that all individuals would act as such.  And why was his wife not put into isolation immediately?  Given the R0 rate, it was an expectation that she would become infected herself.

With these and other decisions the Novel Coronavirus can easily become a pandemic.  This means we need leadership.  Strong leaders that make strong decisions, even if they are unpopular.  And ones who answer questions without sugar coating the truth.  Telling us the man’s symptoms are “mild” does nothing to allay public anxiety, even if the objective by public health and other leaders is to avoid mass panic.

Where are the leaders? What decisions are they making? And what factors are these decisions based on? Economic or human safety?

Journalists should be asking tough questions such as:

Why the plan to contact passengers on the plane only within 3 rows of the ill passenger? Did he not get up to use the washroom or leave his seat at any time? 

What about the flight attendants? Did they make no contact with the infected passenger?

Why was his wife not taken to the hospital at the same time? Why has she been allowed to stay at home while infectious?

Although there has been a large curb in passenger travel, planes from China are still landing all over the world. Temperature detection at the point of arrival is not valid risk mitigation for this virus.

Isn’t that like closing the barn door after the horse took off?

Yes, the Coronavirus can easily become a pandemic if not managed properly.  Early management is essential, and some say the genie is already out of the bottle.  This may be a good time to make your three wishes.


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