CORONAVIRUS spreads much faster than first feared, according to a new study.
Scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US have discovered that one Covid-19 patient can infect a staggering 5.7 people with the deadly bug.
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This is more than double the two or 2.5 other people previously estimated by health officials and the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the start of the pandemic.
It comes as the number of cases of coronavirus in the UK has risen to 60,733, with the death toll standing at 7,097.
The researchers reviewed Chinese data from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including mobile phone data that tracked the movement of patients leaving Wuhan.
And they found that, on average, people infected during the initial outbreak in Wuhan probably passed the virus to an average 5.7 others.
On the other hand, patients who fall poorly with the seasonal flu will on average infect another 1.3 people.
According to the researchers, if this statistic is applied to other countries – the coronavirus pandemic could only be stopped by a widespread vaccination or built immunity for 82 per cent of the population.
“How contagious SARS-CoV-2 (the new coronavirus) is in other countries remains to be seen,” the researchers wrote in their study published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.
“Given the rapid rate of spread as seen in current outbreaks in Europe, we need to be aware of the difficulty of controlling SARS-CoV-2 once it establishes sustained human-to-human transmission in a new population.”
Despite this, the scientists emphasised the importance of lockdowns and social distancing measures in slowing the spread of Covid-19.
And they pointed to successes with outbreaks in South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, among others.
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In particular, South Korea, whose “trace, test, treat” policy is being lauded as one of the world’s best approaches to tackling the virus.
“Our results suggest that a combination of control measures, including early and active surveillance, quarantine, and especially strong social distancing efforts, are needed to slow down or stop the spread of the virus,” the team said.
“If these measures are not implemented early and strongly, the virus has the potential to spread rapidly and infect a large fraction of the population, overwhelming healthcare systems.”
Scientists previously reported that under normal circumstances, the average person with coronavirus will infect 2.5 other people every five days.
When this ratio is continued for a month, 400 people will become infected.
However, the infection rate can be reduced if contacted with other people is avoided.
If the infection ratio were to be halved to 1:1.25 every five days then each infected person would be responsible for just 15 infections each month, rather than 400, and the spread of the virus will slow.
The current advice in the UK is that everyone must follow PHE's guidance on social distancing, not only those at high risk – and keep two metres away from other people not in your household.
Experts said social distancing is vital to reduce pressure on the NHS – as it faces it's "greatest ever challenge".
How long social distancing should be practised depends on a number of factors.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer of England, Jenny Harries, says some form of social distancing is likely to be required for up to six months, with lockdown for up to three of those months.
She commented: “To make it clear to the public, if we are successful we will have squashed the top of that curve [of infections] which is brilliant.
“But we must not then revert to our normal way of living — that would be quite dangerous.
“If we stop, then all our efforts will be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak.
“So over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three-week review, see where we are going, keep that lid on.
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“Then gradually we will be able to hopefully adjust some of the social distancing measures and gradually get us back to normal.”
But she added: “And it is plausible that it could go much further than that.”
This article originally appeared in the NY Post and is republished with permission.
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