Killer coronavirus outbreak will last MONTHS as death toll hits 132 and vaccine trials still 8 weeks away

CHINA’S killer coronavirus outbreak will continue to rapidly spread for at least another six months and infect tens of thousands of people at minimum, leading scientists reveal.

The Wuhan coronavirus is now confirmed to have infected at least 6,000 people around the world.

 The first image of the coronavirus was shared by China's National Microbiology Data Center and shows particles taken from a patient on January 22.


The first image of the coronavirus was shared by China’s National Microbiology Data Center and shows particles taken from a patient on January 22.Credit: China’s National Microbiology Data Center


 Three people have caught the deadly coronavirus outside of crisis-hit China, image shows Thai Airways workers in hazmat suits as they disinfect a plane


Three people have caught the deadly coronavirus outside of crisis-hit China, image shows Thai Airways workers in hazmat suits as they disinfect a planeCredit: Reuters

Efforts are underway to find a vaccine, but even the most optimistic timelines suggest eight weeks to several months of scientific development before human clinical trials can begin.

By that time, hundreds more could have died and numerous other countries infected.

So far, more than 130 people have died from the virus in China – where authorities have imposed an unprecedented travel lockdown in 16 cities with a combined population of over 50 million.

Cases have also been reported in several other countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Thailand, and the United States.

Now a report written by an expert at the University of Toronto has said the “best case scenario” is that the outbreak dies down after summer this year.

While there have been almost 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus already in January, experts believe the actual number of Chinese cases is likely to be more than 25,000.

They also believe it is likely that there are thousands more infected who have gone undetected and that it’s possible the virus is even being spread by people who don’t have any symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) estimate that the number of actual cases has currently passed 40,000.

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 Medics in protective suits seen at the now closed market in Wuhan


Medics in protective suits seen at the now closed market in WuhanCredit: AP:Associated Press
 A driver is stopped and tested at a roadblock on the edge of the city


A driver is stopped and tested at a roadblock on the edge of the cityCredit: AFP or licensors

Alessandro Vespignani, a professor at Northeastern University, said: “It’s easy to get to twice or three times as much, even just in the city of Wuhan,” the virus’s epicentre.

“If we start to have other larger areas affected, then those numbers are going to be much, much bigger.”

Vespignani added while he doesn’t want to estimate the number of possible deaths, such rates have a tendency to fluctuate: they increase at the beginning as the most vulnerable patients die, then drop, and then rise again as others die.

Scientists cannot predict the true cause of the disease and are only able to use mathematical models to compare the current number of cases to past outbreaks of similar diseases, such as SARS – which killed nearly 800 people between 2002 and 2003.

The new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, causes symptoms that may start as a cold and eventually end up developing into pneumonia

But because new information is appearing all the time, these estimates change as their understanding of the disease develops.

Until the past weekend, researchers thought that infected people were not contagious until they got symptoms such as fever, coughing or pneumonia.

But Chinese authorities said on Sunday they had established the opposite.

David Fisman, a professor at the University of Toronto who wrote an analysis of the virus for the International Society for Infectious Diseases, has said the more they research the current epidemic, the more it looks like SARS.

Fisman said: “SARS was controllable; hopefully this will be too. But we won’t know for a few weeks.”
“It’s going to be many weeks, probably months, and nobody knows where this will go.”

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The outbreak situation appears to be getting rapidly worse both in China and internationally.

Hospitals in Wuhan have been overwhelmed for more than a week and two more are under rapid construction.

Elsewhere in the world, 17 countries and territories outside of mainland China have declared the coronavirus infection has spread there.

The disease’s spread has seemed all but unstoppable over the last week, and scientists at Hong Kong University say more drastic action needs to be taken.

There is a risk the virus could trigger a global epidemic – when the illness spreads uncontrollably around the world – if the Chinese government doesn’t clamp down on the movement of people, the researchers said.

Where did coronavirus start? From bats to snakes – the theories on deadly virus’ origins

The killer coronavirus was spread from bats to snakes to humans, experts have claimed.

An outbreak of the virus is understood to have started at an open air fish market in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which has since been put in lockdown after 25 people died and more than 600 people were infected globally.

A new study published in the China Science Bulletin this week claimed that the new coronavirus shared a strain of virus found in bats.

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Previous deadly outbreaks of SARS and Ebola were also believed to have originated in the flying mammal.

Experts had thought the new virus wasn’t capable of causing an epidemic as serious as those outbreaks because its genes were different.

But this latest research appeared to prove otherwise – as scientists scrabble to produce a vaccine.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.”

Meanwhile, scientists at Peking University also claim that the deadly virus was passed to humans from bats – but say it was through a mutation in snakes.

The researchers said that the new strain is made up of a combination of one that affects bats and another unknown coronavirus.

They believe that combined genetic material from both bats and this unknown strain picked up a protein that allows viruses bind to certain host cells – including those of humans.

After analysing the genes of the strains the team found that snakes were susceptible to the most similar version of the coronavirus.

It meant that they likely provided a “reservoir” for the viral strain to grow stronger and replicate.

Snakes are sold at the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan and may have jumped to other animals before passing to humans, they claim.

But a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who asked not to be named, said the findings should be treated with caution.

He told the South China Morning Post: “It is based on calculation by a computer model.

“Whether it will match what happens in real life is inconclusive.

“The binding protein is important, but it is just one of the many things under investigation. There may be other proteins involved.”

The expert believes that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox.

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