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Zhong Nanshan amends prediction for coronavirus peak

By Zhang Zhihao | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-02-02 22:33
Chinese renowned respiratory scientist Zhong Nanshan receives an interview with Xinhua in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province, Jan 28, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The novel coronavirus outbreak may reach its peak in the next 10 to 14 days, Zhong Nanshan, a leading expert tackling the virus, said on Sunday, amending his previous prediction on Jan 28 that the epidemic would peak in seven or 10 days.

Zhong, also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said current research has shown the virus originated from bats, but whether there are more intermediate carriers between bats and humans requires further investigation.

Although there is no effective cure yet, there are at least seven drugs targeting the virus' genetic material going through various stages of clinical trials, he told Xinhua News Agency. A vaccine is also in the works, though it requires more time to reach clinical application.

"We have learned from the successful therapy of SARS and established a set of effective treatment plans," he said. "And with the help of various life-support measures we have ensured the recovery success rate of patients."

Based on available information, the medium age of the infected patient is around 59, and 56 percent of all patients are male, he said. The average incubation period of the virus is around five days, with fever being the most common symptom of the virus.

There have been a few reported cases of infected patients that showed no obvious symptoms, but they are in the minority and the bulk of preventive efforts should focus on the majority of patients, he said.

Zhong stressed the most effective preventive measures are still early detection and quarantine. “The epidemic is still at its growing phase, but we believe it won't lead to a massive nationwide pandemic, only regional ones if they occur."

Prolonging the Spring Festival holidays, controlling traffic, temperature checks and education as well as other government measures have effectively cut off the source of infection and greatly reduced the spread of the virus, he said.

"We believe the epidemic will peak in the next 10 to 14 days, but we still need to enhance preventive measures and not lower our guard," he said, adding there are many challenges in the current effort.

The first is that the outbreak occurs in concentrated areas, stretching local medical resources thin. This situation may improve in the near future, as Wuhan is building two dedicated hospitals and medical personnel and equipment are pouring in from around the country.

The second issue is how to differentiate between patients with the common flu and those infected with coronavirus, which can be a tricky task since both illnesses share symptoms. Local hospitals should improve their diagnostic capabilities to relieve some of the workload from hospitals designated to treat the virus, he said.

The third issue is how to optimize management and resource allocation to better protect hospitals and medical staff working on the frontline from infections.

Zhong said scientists still know relatively little about the novel coronavirus, and he urged them to speed up their research to help tackle the epidemic.

"The SARS epidemic 17 years ago lasted nearly six months, since then we have made considerable progress in preventing and controlling major infectious diseases, so we have the confidence to effectively curb today's outbreak."

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