Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London and the MRC Centre of Global Infectious Disease Analysis has warned that the outbreak in China is probably far bigger than official estimates and that the possibility of person to person contraction must be taken more seriously. However, the expert warned also against alarmist statements at this point.

Thai authorities are bracing for a challenge ahead of the Chinese New Year as the mystery new coronavirus challenges Thailand from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the current outbreak and that has daily flights to the country key’s airports. There are daily flights to Sunavaranbhumi, Don Mueang, Phuket and Krabi with alternate daily flights to Chiang Mai. The current scare has already seen 2 people quarantined in the kingdom.

The Thai Public Health Minster Anutin Charnvirakul (inset) and officials at the ministry have assured the Thai public that the threat is under control. It comes as fears grow that the outbreak in China may have been under-reported. For Thailand, the key concern now is the surge in visitors for the Chinese New Year period and screening at airports taking flights from the Chinese city of Wuhan at the outbreak epicentre.

Thai authorities are ramping up precautions ahead of the Chinese New Year as there has been a reported increase in infections over the weekend linked to the new coronavirus in Wuhan.

The challenge for Thai authorities like their counterparts in other Asian countries and those in China, is how to cope with the imminent Chinese New year celebrations which will see a huge movement of Chinese people migrating both within China and outside the country for holiday or to visit relatives. 

Thailand is among the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists with direct flights from Wuhan.

The Thai Public Health Mister Anutin Charnvirakul, at the outset of the scare, had assured the Thai public even after the first case of the 61-year-old Chinese woman was detected with the virus at Suvarnabhumi Airport on January 5th last, that authorities have the situation under control.

Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists in particular at this time of year

Thai authorities on Friday announced that screening and testing will commence on arrivals from Wuhan to Krabi, the gateway to Thailand’s southern tourist spots and islands.

They are also reported to be working with Thai Air Asia and China Southern Airlines in Wuhan to screen outbound passengers to Thailand in an effort to turn around people boarding flights who may show signs of the virus.

China confirms a little of what most people already suspect with cases in Beijing and Guangdong

China has just confirmed what many had already suspected. The mystery coronavirus, which many are comparing to the SARS virus of  2003, has spread to other cities in the country with a population of 1.4 billion people.

The current official status, which is changing rapidly as information is assessed and released to the media, shows that 201 people have now contracted the virus in China. The number of dead from the virus which begins with chest pain and coughing, is now confirmed at 3 people.

Chinese figures not trusted by an international expert

The figures for those contracting the virus according to an expert from Imperial College in London are thought to be far higher than this based on the confirmed detection of three people with the virus outside China, including two in Thailand up to January 17th.

There has also been intense online media speculation within China’s highly censored internet about the true nature of the outbreak.

New reports of cases in Beijing and Guangdong

It is being reported that a 66-year-old in Guangdong was quarantined on January 11th. A statement from the health commission in Guangdong read: ‘Experts believe that the current epidemic situation is still preventable and controllable.’ 

Authorities have also just confirmed two cases in Beijing’s Daxing district linked to travellers from the city of Wuhan, which is the epicentre for the infection.

Authorities had identified a seafood market linked to nearly all initial cases but now the spread of the virus has moved beyond this.

Latest new from Wuhan is more disturbing

The latest news from Wuhan is even more concerning. Over the weekend, 17 new cases were diagnosed by the Wuhan Municipality Health Commission with 8 said to be in a severe condition. Of even more concern is that many of the new cases show no link with the seafood market at the centre of the city.

This has heightened fears that some of the new cases may have been contracted by a human to human interaction. 

Wuhan is a city of 11 million people and is a key transport hub within China.

UK professor says Chinese authorities are underestimating the spread of the virus in the country

On Friday, Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in London and the MRC Centre of Global Infectious Disease Analysis came out strongly to warn that figures being released by Chinese authorities appear to underestimate the extent of the problem.

Professor Ferguson also warned of the possibility of human to human contraction somethings the Wuhan Authorities have specifically said they do not exclude.

Released a scientific paper which estimated over 1,700 cases to January 17th based on external detections

‘I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago,’ he told the BBC as he released his paper that estimated on Friday that Wuhan probably had over 1,700 cases compared to the 67 reported by Chinese authorities.

The professor pointedly remarked that it would not be correct to become ‘alarmist’ at this stage about the problem.

Cases in Thailand and Japan indicate a larger outbreak

What has prompted this concern is that three people up to last weekend travelling from Wuhan were reported by Thai and Japanese authorities as having been detected with the viral infection.

Two of the cases are in Thailand where one has already been cured and given the all-clear. ‘For Wuhan to have exported three cases to other countries would imply there would have to be many more cases than have been reported,’ the professor said.

Possibility of human to human contraction must be considered and its absence is ‘highly unlikely’

But Profesor Ferguson along with doctors at the World Health Organisation also has strong concerns about the disease being contracted by a human to human interaction. ‘People should be considering the possibility of substantial human-to-human transmission more seriously than they have so far,’ he told the BBC saying it was highly unlikely that the current outbreak was now limited to animal or non-human exposure

Second case confirmed in Thailand on Friday

Thailand detected its second case of the virus on Friday when the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand confirmed the second case.

A 74-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in Thailand on January 13th and had been quarantined at Bamrasnaradura  Infectious Disease Institute where doctors hope to treat the woman and cure of the virus.

Thai authorities are reporting that there are currently two people being treated at the institute and in quarantine from China. The two cases have no links with each other.

Thai authorities revealed the first case already cured

However, Thai authorities have revealed the since screening began on January 3rd, 21 people in total have shown symptoms of the virus. 12 people have been sent home. 

Thai authorities suggest that the first person confirmed with the virus is waiting for tests so that doctors can declare the person to be free of the virus and fully cured.

Further reading:

Thai woman dies from a female mosquito bite as deaths and infections from dengue spike

Elite doctors at Siriraj reveal that the ‘mystery’ illness that killed a Thai TV star was a rare but lethal form of TB