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Silver lining in pandemic

“Currently, a significant proportion of cases in Asia are imported from Europe and North America. If the virus is under control there, it is likely that with the control measures in place across Asia, the numbers will correspondingly drop,” Paul Tambyah, President of the Asia Pacific Society of clinical microbiology and infection, told the Independent

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Amidst the gloom of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a silver lining is starting to appear. The number of daily new infections has turned for the better in the US and Europe, which will improve the global situation because Europe and the US now have the most infections.

“Currently, a significant proportion of cases in Asia are imported from Europe and North America. If the virus is under control there, it is likely that with the control measures in place across Asia, the numbers will correspondingly drop,” Paul Tambyah, President of the Asia Pacific Society of clinical microbiology and infection, told the Independent.

Now that the number of COVID-19 infections in the US and Europe has far surpassed China, where the epidemic broke out late last year, China, Singapore and Hong Kong have recently imposed stringent restrictions on foreign visitors.

There have been unprecedented steps taken by public health authorities all over the world, so these are likely to have some impact on the spread of the virus, Tambyah said. Together with the weather, hopefully the worldwide situation may perhaps improve by late May, he added. “I have long argued that the weather is likely to affect the transmission of this coronavirus like it did for SARS and for the regular “common cold” coronaviruses.”

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Hong Kong University researchers have shown that there are significant differences in how long the virus can survive on surfaces at different temperatures. The SARS CoV2, the cause of COVID-19, only lasts one day at 37 C compared with seven days at 22 C and 14 days at 4C.

The picture remains grim. On April 5, Singapore had a record high of 120 COVID-19 infections, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health. Worldwide, there are over 1.2 million confirmed infections and over 68,000 deaths from the highly contagious coronavirus. The US has the most infections at over 337,000, followed by Spain at over 130,000 cases, Italy third at over 128,000 cases, Germany fourth at over 95,000 cases and France fifth at over 90,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and local health authorities.

But the rate of new infections has started to slow in the US, Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

In Italy, the number of official new infections decreased from the high of 6,557 on March 21 to 4,316 on April 5. In Spain, the number of official new cases dropped from 8,195 on April 1 to 5,478 on April 5. In Germany, the number of official new cases fell from 6,813 on April 2 to 4,031 on April 5.

On April 3, France reported its highest number of new infections at 12,060, but this plunged to 2,886 on April 5. The number of new cases in France fell from 7,578 on March 31 to 2,116 on April 2. The sharp spike of new infections on April 3 was due to the French government including on April 3 many additional cases from nursing homes that were not previously reported.

In the US, the number of official new cases fell from a record 34,916 on April 4 to 25,316 on April 5.

At a press conference in the US on April 5, US President Donald Trump expressed hope that new COVID-19 cases were “levelling off” in US hotspots, saying he saw “light at the end of the tunnel”. On that day, New York state, the epicentre of the US outbreak, reported a drop in the number of new infections and deaths.

Ironically, it is when things get worse that they start getting better.

“When the situation becomes severe, all parties in a country’s government will come to a consensus to take decisive action against the infection. Then the infection will drop quickly,” said Richard Li Xiang, head of the research department at the Ping An Macroeconomic Research Institute.

This research institute of Ping An, the largest Chinese insurer, has created a model using artificial intelligence, which predicts that once a country’s government takes stringent action, the peak of infections will occur in nine to 12 days.

Ping An’s model predicted the number of new COVID-19 infections should peak in Italy by March 25, by March 31 for France and Germany, by April 1 for Spain, and in the US by April 3, according to a press release on March 30 by the Hong Kong and Shanghai-listed firm. Compared to the actual data, Ping An’s predictions were accurate for Italy and Spain, but off by one or a few days for France, Germany and the US.

Although the daily new cases have peaked, the COVID-19 infection in the US and Europe may last for several months to two years, Li cautioned. This is because the restrictions in the US and European countries are milder than China, Li explained. “In the UK, the epidemic may last four to five months, because the UK government was too late and not rigorous enough in imposing restrictions.”

The number of deaths from COVID-19 has also fallen in the US, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. In terms of deaths from this pandemic, Italy has the most at over 15,000, followed by Spain at over 12,000, the US third at over 9,600 and France fourth at over 8,000.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 in France plunged from a record 1,355 on April 2 to 518 on April 5. In Italy, the number of deaths has dropped from the record of 919 on March 27 to 525 on April 5. In Spain, that number has fallen from a high of 961 on April 2 to 694 on April 5. In Germany, the number of deaths has fallen from a record 176 on April 2 to 140 on April 4. In the US, the number of deaths decreased from a record 1,330 on April 4 to 1,165 on April 5.

But Li cautioned, “Now we are currently worried about other countries like India. Although the Indian government has applied stringent controls, only hundreds are tested in India each day, which is too little for a country with over one billion people.”

Since a significant number of Indians travel to Singapore and Malaysia, these Southeast Asian nations face a challenge in managing Indian visitors for the risks of COVID-19.

Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong.Follow us on Social Media

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