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SPREADING

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed that of SARS

Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Well prepared.
  • Isabella Steger
By Isabella Steger

Asia deputy editor

The total number of people infected with the novel coronavirus first discovered in Wuhan, China has increased to over 8,100, surpassing the 8,098 people worldwide who were sickened by SARS in the 2003 outbreak.

The latest cases announced today include 317 new cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the disease. Outside of mainland China, new cases were also reported in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines.

The virus, which appeared in December, has infected more people over a period of less than two months than SARS, which circulated for about five months. According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 29, the number of infections reported in Wuhan has doubled every 7.4 days on average.

The sharp increase in the number of cases reported since Jan. 24 could be the result of increased reporting. Testing kits are more available than in the early stages of the outbreak, and local governments are more likely to report figures after getting the go-ahead from China’s central government. Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted in an interview this week that that he didn’t disclose information about the virus in a timely manner, but explained that he had needed authorization to reveal that information.

But the uptick could also reflect how transmissible the virus is. Earlier this week, the head of China’s National Health Commission warned that people with the new coronavirus could be contagious for as many as 14 days before showing signs of infection.

So far, 170 people have died from the novel coronavirus, all in China. Compared to the 774 deaths attributed to SARS worldwide, the current virus has a much lower fatality rate. In addition, as medical journal the Lancet cautions, fatality ratios are often overestimated in the early stages of a viral infection because case detection skews toward more severe cases.

But the article also warns against complacency. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, it notes, ended up having a huge impact due to widespread transmission—despite having a fatality rate of under 5%.

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