Hong Kong — A top microbiologist in the territory says the spread of Covid-19, a novel coronavirus that has infected nearly 110,000 people around the world and killed more than 3,800, will not end this year.
He also said that containment will not be able to eradicate the disease.
What will end the epidemic, said Professor Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), is an inexpensive and effective vaccine or antiviral drug made available to most people or if the larger part of the population is actually infected with the disease and develops a natural immunity to it, since people who have been infected develop antibodies.
Prof Yuen has advised the Hong Kong authorities on the management of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In a pre-recorded interview on television on Sunday (March 8), he said: “We think the epidemic will probably not come to an end. There will be what we call reversed imported cases. In the beginning other countries feared us, now we fear them (for bringing in the virus).”
The professor was also reported by scmp.com the same day as saying that finding a vaccine or people developing immunity would curb the spread of the coronavirus.
And on Monday (March 9), thestandard.com.hk reported him as saying that even containment would not be effective since the coronavirus has already spread to many countries across the globe, with very little success in curbing transmission links.
He said what would stop the spread would be people developing antibodies after recovery from the disease although he could not say when exactly this would take place.
At present, 0.1 per cent of the world’s population is immune to the novel coronavirus, and the microbiologist has predicted that this number will increase by 5 per cent yearly. When 70 per cent of people have developed antibodies against the infection, the number of people who will be infected by the virus will fall.
He added that HKU discovered that people in Hong Kong who have recovered from Covid-19 have a high volume of antibodies, which would make them immune between five to 10 years, at least.
In order to curb imported cases of the disease, Hong Kong can ask travellers coming from countries with infection rates to present a medical certificate upon arrival as well as submit to quarantine in Hong Kong. They should also be tested, he said, and only be allowed to enter the city if they test negative for the coronavirus.
At present, travellers from Iran, the city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang province in South Korea and three regions in Italy are required to submit to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Hong Kong. But all travelers are now required to declare their health condition.
Hong Kong officials have also said that the government will review and adjust measures in accordance with the development of the outbreak, in the light of fresh outbreaks reported in countries such as Germany and France.
Hong Kong has had 113 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with two deaths.
Prof Yuen advised people not to travel until later in the year, saying: “When the epidemic is serious, avoid travelling to other places unless necessary.”
Like other experts, he emphasised the need for personal hygiene. “If everyone washes his or her hands, wears a mask all the time and maintains social distancing, the risk of infection will be lowered. It’s a matter of compliance. We cannot guard against the virus forever, but the longer we delay its spread, the higher the chances of getting a vaccine in time,” scmp.com quoted him as saying. —/TISG