Leading Experts Says Coronavirus Could Infect 60% Of World’s Population, WHO Gives Official New Name To The Disease

Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, said the coronavirus could spread to 60 percent of the population.

Getty Image / TIZIANA FABI / Contributor

The World Health Organization (WHO) released the latest statistics on the coronavirus on Tuesday. The update stated that that there are 42,708 diagnosed cases of coronavirus in China, and the death toll has risen to 1,017. While these figures are alarming, one health expert warns that the novel coronavirus has the frightening potential to infect 60 percent of the population.

According to Professor Gabriel Leung, the chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, warned that the coronavirus outbreak is “tip of the iceberg.”

Dr. Leung, who is a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) expert that also managed Hong Kong’s response to the swine-flu outbreak of 2009, said the coronavirus has an “attack rate” of 60-80 percent. “Sixty percent of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” Leung told the Guardian before heading to a WHO meeting in Geneva on Tuesday. The WHO meeting in Geneva meeting will have over 400 researchers and national authorities.

“Maybe this will come in waves,” Leung said. “Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well.”

The World Health Organization said that the 2019-nCoV can spread from one victim to 1.4 and 2.5 new victims, but other estimates go as high as three new victims per case. However, there have been coronavirus “superspreaders” who have infected as many as 16 people.

The 2019-nCoV has a 2% fatality rate according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The coronavirus “has been relatively stable” so far in the outbreak,” Dr. Messonnier said. “But whether that actually is a real case fatality ratio or not, I just don’t think that we have the information right now to say.”

One AI-powered simulation claimed that 2.5 billion people could be infected with the disease within 45 days, and the death toll would reach 52.9 million in the same period.

But some medical professionals are skeptical of the doomsday forecast. Doctors and health officials note that the data doesn’t account for several factors such as an uncertain mortality rate, thus providing much more dire death tolls.

“The projections seem unrealistically high,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor at the UNLV school of public health. “Flu infected about 8% of the population over 7-8 months last year; this model has one-third of Earth’s population being infected in 6 weeks.”

“With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the WHO convention.

The World Health Organization announced a new name for the coronavirus. The WHO gave coronavirus a new official name: COVID-19. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019, and it was given to prevent any stigma revolving around the respiratory disease.

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said at the press conference. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”

The WHO wanted to “find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready within 18 months.