Dramatic Surge in UNTRACEABLE Clusters of Coronavirus Cases Around the World Sparks Dire Warnings From Disease Experts That 'Containment Methods Are Not Going to Work'
February 23, 2020
Clusters in South Korea, Singapore and Iran are leading to a jump in cases of the viral illness outside China.
- Trouble finding sources may signal has begun spreading too widely for tried-and-tested ways to stamp it out
- Ian Mackay said 'spot fires' around the world could mean 'what we are going to have is probably a pandemic'
- Newest red flag is 28 reported cases, including at least five deaths, in Iran within days of cluster in Qom
- However World Health Organisation insists that the outbreak isn't at pandemic levels yet
A surge in untraceable clusters of new coronavirus patients around the globe has caused experts to warn that 'containment methods are not going to work'.
In South Korea, Singapore and Iran, clusters of infections are leading to a jump in cases of the new viral illness outside China. World Health Organization officials said China's crackdown on parts of the country bought time for the rest of the world to prepare for the new virus.
But as hot spots emerge around the globe, trouble finding each source - the first patient who sparks every new cluster - might signal the disease has begun spreading too widely for tried-and-tested steps to stamp it out.
'A number of spot fires, occurring around the world is a sign that things are ticking along, and what we are going to have here is probably a pandemic,' said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at Australia's University of Queensland.
Viruses vary in how they infect. The new coronavirus - unlike its cousins SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome - spreads as easily as a common cold.
And it's almost certainly being spread by people who show such mild symptoms that no one can tell, said Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Dr Adalja said: 'If that's the case, all of these containment methods are not going to work. It's likely mixed in the cold and flu season all over the place, in multiple countries' and gone unnoticed until someone gets severely ill.'
These milder symptoms are good news 'in terms of not as many people dying,' said Mackay, of Australia.
'But it's really bad news if you are trying to stop a pandemic,' he added.
However that worst-case isn't here yet, the WHO insists. It isn't convinced that countries outside China need more draconian measures, but it pointed to spikes in cases in Iran and South Korea to warn time may be running out to contain the virus.
It comes as Italy confirmed a 78-year-old man and an unidentified woman had died, sparking a lockdown of twelve towns in the north eastern region of Lombardy.
While 32 British and European passengers who were on the coronavirus-riddled Diamond Princess cruise ship landed back in Britain on Saturday, after leaving Japan late on Friday, ahead of a quarantine period in the Wirral.
The virus has so far infected more than 77,000 people across the world, with more than 2,250 killed by it.
WHO's Dr. Sylvie Briand said: 'What we see is a very different phase of this outbreak depending where you look. We see different patterns of transmission in different places.'
The World Health Organization defines a 'global pandemic' as a disease spreading on two continents, though some public health experts would call an outbreak a pandemic if the spread is over a wide area or across many international borders.
The newest red flag is that Iran has reported 28 cases, including at least five deaths, in just days. The cluster began in the city of Qom, a popular religious destination, but it's not clear how.
While on Saturday authorities in Iran reported a sixth death from the virus, with the governor of Markazi province telling the official IRNA news agency that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak was positive for the strain of coronavirus known as Covid-19.
Ali Aghazadeh said the person who died was suffering from a heart problem, too. Earlier on Saturday, Iranian authorities reported a fifth death from the new virus and said the fatality was among 10 new confirmed cases of the virus in Iran.
It was not immediately clear whether the sixth fatality was among those 10. So far, 28 cases have been confirmed in Iran, including at least five of the six who died.
Worse, infected travelers from Iran already have been discovered in Lebanon and Canada.
While in South Korea, most of the hundreds of new cases detected since Wednesday are linked to a church in the city of Daegu and a nearby hospital.
But health authorities have not yet found the 'index case,' the person among the church's 9,000 followers who set off the chain of infections. There also have been several cases in the capital, Seoul, where the infection routes have not yet been traced.
Confirmed Cases and Deaths by Country, Territory, or Conveyance
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting 33 countries and territories around the world and 1 international conveyance (the "Diamond Princess" cruise ship harbored in Yokohama, Japan).
In Europe, Italy saw cases of the new virus more than quadruple in a day as it grapples with infections in a northern region that apparently have spread through a hospital and a cafe.
Two coronavirus patients died on Saturday from the Covid-19 disease that has now killed 2,253 people and infected more than 77,268 across the world.
The two deaths triggered a lockdown of twelve towns in the north eastern region of Lombardy and 50,000 people have been asked to stay indoors.
A 78-year-old father-of-three, passed away in a hospital in Padua on Friday evening. Adriano Trevisan, a retired bricklayer, had been admitted to the hospital for another health issue ten days ago said local authorities.
The second patient to die was an elderly woman whose death has triggered the closing down of shops, offices and community centres in Casalpusterlengo, according to Italian news agency Ansa.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expressed his sympathies for the two deaths and said he had called an emergency meeting, as more than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in two northern regions were asked to stay at home by the local authorities.
A cluster of cases isn't inherently worrying - in fact, it's expected as an infection that's easy to spread is carried around the world by travelers.
The first line of defense is to isolate the sick to treat them and prevent further spread, and quarantine people who came in contact with them until the incubation period is over.
But as the virus becomes more widespread, trying to trace every contact would be futile, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged earlier this month.
'If we still hospitalize and isolate every suspect case, our hospitals will be overwhelmed,' he said.
So far, the city-state has identified five clusters of transmission, including two churches. But there remain eight locally transmitted cases with no links to earlier cases, or to China.
When Hong Kong reported its first death from the virus earlier this month, it also confirmed three locally transmitted cases with no known link to any previous cases or any travel history to China.
Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection warned then that 'there could be invisible chains of infection happening within communities.'
Officials in both South Korea and Japan have signaled in the past week that the spread is entering a new phase in their countries.
On Friday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said the government would have to shift its focus from quarantine and border control to slowing the spread of the virus.
Schools and churches were closed and some mass gatherings banned.
Takaji Wakita, head of Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, earlier urged people to work at home or in shifts to avoid being in a crowd, and refrain from holding non-essential and non-urgent meetings.
But Adalja cautioned that far-reaching measures like China instituted in the outbreak's epicenter of Wuhan - where citizens have been ordered to stay in their homes for weeks - can backfire.
While it remains to be seen if the new virus is waning, that kind of lockdown makes it hard for people to get other critically important care, like fast treatment for a heart attack.
There's no way to predict if the recent clusters will burn out or trigger widespread transmission.
For now, health officials should try and contain the infection for as long as possible while preparing for a change in strategy by preparing hospitals, readying protective equipment and bolstering laboratory capacity, said Gagandeep Kang, a microbiologist who leads India's Translational Health Science and Technology Institute.
'Although the window of opportunity is narrowing to contain the outbreak, we still have a chance to contain it,' said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
'But while doing that, we have to prepare at the same time for any eventualities, because this outbreak could go any direction - it could even be messy.'
Home at last... but straight to quarantine: Buses carrying 32 British and European tourists arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital as their two-week containment ordeal begins after 20-day hell on Diamond Princess plague ship
Passengers who were on the coronavirus-riddled Diamond Princess cruise ship and flew back to the UK on an evacuation flight on Friday night have arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital.
The 32 British and European people will now start their two-week containment ordeal, after signing a document confirming they would spend 14 days in quarantine in Merseyside.
The amount of people who flew back to Britain is less than half of the 78 UK nationals who were trapped on the doomed vessel as officials admitted some refused to get on the plane.
Pictures showed the group pulling up just before 6pm on Saturday while wearing masks. They were split between three coaches along with medical professionals wearing white hazmat suits.
Two police cars, two ambulances, several police motorbikes and a fourth coach with no passengers were also in the convoy.
An accommodation block, separate to the main hospital building, will be home to the evacuees while they have health checks in quarantine.
One passenger was pictured making a heart sign with her hands while another gave an OK signal through the coach windows as they arrived at the hospital.
The plane yesterday took off from Japan with the passengers, British government workers and medical staff on board and landed in Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, this morning.
The passengers had in-flight entertainment, two hot meals, a blanket and a pillow, during their journey back to the UK, Sky News reports.
Arrowe Park Hospital has been used before to quarantine British nationals, with its chief executive saying this gave a 'blueprint' to handle Saturday's new arrivals.
The hospital on the Wirral was previously used to host 83 British nationals for a 14-day quarantine period earlier in February after they were flown out of Wuhan, which has been at the centre of the outbreak.
Wirral Teaching Hospital NHS Trust chief executive Janelle Holmes said: 'There was a lot of preparation that went in for our Wuhan guests who successfully left and had been really appreciative of the support and help that we provided. That has given us a blueprint for building on that for the new arrival of guests.
'I was pleased for the staff and our partners who had spent such a lot of time making sure their stay was as comfortable as possible and clearly I think because we did such a good job we were asked to support this group of travellers that are coming back from a cruise in Japan.'
She said the quarantined group will be 'safe, well-managed and comfortable' during their fortnight stay at an on-site accommodation block - while the staff previously living there remain in nearby hotels.
Mrs Holmes also praised the support of the local community - including donations from schools and scout groups - for evacuees based at Arrowe Park.
She added: 'We are following all the new local and regional guidance on managing this group of residents for the period that they are with us and we have got a significant number of health professionals working alongside us both outside and inside the building.
'I just wanted to say too that for all the local residents and patients that use our services that the hospital is still open.
'We want to encourage people to come and make sure they don't miss their appointments and that they feel safe to come on site. It's a separate building from the rest of the hospital and is completely self-contained.'
The passengers, who all tested negative to having Covid-19 before they flew, were brought back to the UK on a repatriation flight on Saturday.
The plane, carrying 32 British and European evacuees from the vessel, touched down at Ministry of Defence base Boscombe Down in Wiltshire shortly after 11.30am.
As with the previous coachloads brought to Arrowe Park, the bus drivers were not wearing any protective clothing but Public Health England said seating arrangements ensured they were never in close contact with passengers and therefore not at risk.
Yesterday, officials in hazmat suits and face masks waited at the port to meet the Brits as they left the ship, two hours later than originally planned, and got on buses to take them to Tokyo's Haneda Airport.
Of those who did not return on the flight tonight, four infected Brits are in hospital, while a handful of family members are thought to have refused the evacuation to be with their loved ones.
Many have already been airlifted to other countries where they live after becoming fed up of waiting on the UK Government to rescue them.
It is also thought that British members of the Diamond Princess crew have remained on the ship instead of flying back to the UK, reports The Daily Telegraph.
British couple David and Sally Abel, who have been sharing updates of their time on the cruise online and been confirmed as having coronavirus, are also not on the flight. Mr Abel shared a Facebook post on Thursday saying he was 'thinking of all the Brits flying home' from his hospital bed.
Ministers have been repeatedly blasted for its dire handling of the planned evacuation, with eight countries having already managed an airlift – including the US who flew home 300 residents on February 16 and 17.
Brits trapped on the cruise – which has been docked off the coast of Yokohama since February 3 – accused Number of 10 of abandoning them, saying their treatment had been 'pretty bad' and the repatriation effort 'slow'.
One honeymooner who caught SARS-CoV-2 – 58-year-old Alan Steele from Wolverhampton – has since shifted the virus and been reunited with his wife Wendy. He joked on Facebook: 'Butlins the Wirral here we come for 14 days.'
More than 76,000 cases of the killer coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including at least 630 on the Diamond Princess. Almost 2,250 patients have died, two of whom were elderly Japanese passengers on the ship.
The group of Brits being flown back to the UK will have spend at least a month in isolation by the time they finish quarantine in the Wirral and are allowed to return to their homes, after almost 21 days stranded on the ship.
Their rescue was plagued by a series of delays which meant their buses were pushed back by six hours after officials announced this morning it was logistically 'complicated'.
Earlier in the week, leading scientists warned the cruise was an ideal breeding ground for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while experts described the ship's quarantine as a 'major failure'.
More than 2,000 people had left ship by Friday morning – including more than 1,000 who have been allowed to disembark and go back to their normal lives.
Alan Steele, from Wolverhampton, yesterday blasted the Foreign Office for abandoning Britons on the virus-ridden ship after half a dozen countries rescued their citizens before the UK.
In a scathing attack on the UK Government, Mr Steele accused ministers of 'treating us badly' and added: '74 Brits, what the hell do they matter?'
Mr Steele, 58, who was on his honeymoon on the cruise, was forced to leave his new wife Wendy behind on the vessel when he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on February 7 and was whisked into isolation in a Japanese hospital.
He said Wendy was 'struggling' on her own on the Diamond Princess and likened his experience in a foreign infectious diseases ward to 'solitary confinement in prison'.
The lorry driver revealed today his wife tested negative and joked that they'd be going to 'Butlins, the Wirral' for 14 days - a reference to being quarantined at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside.
The Diamond Princess has been moored in Yokohama since February 3, and more than 630 passengers on the gigantic vessel have caught the coronavirus.
The Diamond Princess was carrying more than 3,700 people in early February when 10 passengers were diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Since being quarantined in the port of Yokohama, a total of 634 passengers and crew have been infected – the equivalent of one in six onboard being struck down.
It means the ship has recorded almost half of all the confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China – where 98 per cent of infections have been recorded.
Passengers who have tested negative for the coronavirus began disembarking from the Diamond Princess ship on Wednesday – when the official quarantine ended.
Once passengers have left the ship, they will be permitted to travel freely, health officials have said.
The average incubation period for coronavirus is a fortnight - so anyone who does not show symptoms in that time is unlikely to have it.
It came despite mounting evidence from infectious disease experts they could unknowingly be carrying the virus back into their communities.
*For more information about the current outbreak in China: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/novel-coronavirus-2019.html
- For more information about Coronaviruses: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
- For travel health information: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/pneumonia-china
**For more information about how to protect yourself:
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