Researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health used a computer model of observations of reported coronavirus infections and spread rate in China, along with mobility data over a four-week period from January 10 until February 8. This found an explosion of cases in China were driven by people who were displaying just mild or no symptoms whatsoever. The research team warned “stealth transmissions” – undiagnosed people with mild symptoms unwittingly spreading the disease – will continue to present a huge challenge throughout the world over the coming weeks.
Coronavirus was thought to have originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of last year.
But the new study revealed 86 percent of all infections were undocumented before all travel was shut down in the crisis-hit province on January 23.
Those cases were the source of two-thirds of the documented infections, the study concluded.
Jeffrey Shaman, co-author of the report and professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, warned special distancing is essential in order to combat apparently health people spreading the virus.
The explosion of COVID-19 cases in China was largely driven by individuals with mild, limited, or no symptoms who went undetected
Professor Jeffrey Shaman
He said: “The explosion of COVID-19 cases in China was largely driven by individuals with mild, limited, or no symptoms who went undetected.
“Depending on their contagiousness and numbers, undetected cases can expose a far greater portion of the population to virus than would otherwise occur.
“We find for COVID-19 in China these undetected infected individuals are numerous and contagious.
“These stealth transmissions will continue to present a major challenge to the containment of this outbreak going forward.”
But the research said Government efforts to contain coronavirus and raising awareness had helped limit its spread in China.
The report concluded that after travel restrictions and control measures were imposed, coronavirus spread less quickly.
However, Professor Shaman warned: “Heightened awareness of the outbreak, increased use of personal protective measures, and travel restriction have helped reduce the overall force of infection.
“However, it is unclear whether this reduction will be sufficient to fully stem the virus spread.
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“If the novel coronavirus follows the pattern of 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza, it will also spread globally and become a fifth endemic coronavirus within the human population.”
The latest shocking research comes as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has soared beyond 7,000 worldwide, with more than 182,000 people infected.
UK authorities have told the public to avoid visiting pubs, clubs and restaurants, and to work from home whenever possible.
On Monday, health authorities reported 1,543 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, with 55 deaths.
Boris Johnson has urged British people to “stop non-essential contact and to stop all non-essential travel”.
The Prime Minister ordered those over the age of 70 with underlying health problems to isolate for 12 weeks from this weekend.
He said in a press conference: “What we are announcing today is a very substantial change in the way that we want people to live their lives and I can’t remember anything like it in my life time.”
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening, Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We’re advising against all unnecessary social contact.
“I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus.
“I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus.”
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