Home | News | COVID-19 could soon be designated ‘disease X’, reaching epidemic level: experts
A woman wearing a sanitary mask walks through a shopping area in Milan, Italy, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. Photo: Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP.

COVID-19 could soon be designated ‘disease X’, reaching epidemic level: experts

Large outbreaks of the coronavirus COVID-19 around the world have exacerbated fears that the worst is yet to come, with one expert predicting that the disease will turn into a pandemic and another lamenting the inaction of officials in dealing with the outbreak.

Europe’s first large outbreak of the virus, occurring in Italy, has prompted officials to cancel sporting events and stop passengers travelling by train to and from the country.

The number of cases of the virus in Italy exploded from 5 to 152 with three deaths.

Roadblocks were set up in at least 10 towns in Lombardy at the epicentre of the outbreak, to keep people from leaving or arriving.

Buses, trains and other forms of public transport – including boats in Venice – were being disinfected, Veneto regional Governor Luca Zaia told reporters.

Museums were ordered to shut down in Venice, as well as in neighbouring Lombardy, which, with at least 110 confirmed cases, is the epicentre of the viral outbreak.

Authorities said three people in Venice have tested positive for the viral disease, all of them in their late 80s and who were hospitalised in a critical condition.

Other northern regions with smaller numbers of cases are Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.

The death on Sunday of an elderly woman, who was already suffering from cancer, raised the nation's death toll to three, said Lombardy regional official Giulio Gallera.

"The health officials haven't been yet able to pinpoint 'patient zero,"' Angelo Borrelli, head of the national Civil Protection agency, told reporters in Rome.

Borrelli indicated the current strategy is to concentrate on closures and other restrictions to try to stem the spread in the country, which had already banned direct flights from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Italy has also tested millions of airport passengers arriving from other places for any signs of fever.

Gallera said schools, museums, discos, pubs and theatres would stay closed for at least seven days.

As of February 24th, the World Health Organization puts the global death toll at 2618: 2595 of those were in China where the outbreak is thought to have originated.

Reports say that China has allocated 99.5 billion yuan ($A 21.4 billion) in funds towards curbing the coronavirus outbreak that has spread throughout the country.

Assistant Finance Minister Ou Wenhan revealed the spending during a briefing in Beijing.

In the latest figures, mainland China had 409 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday, the National Health Commission said, down from 648 reported a day earlier.

Australia has thus far managed to stay largely untouched by the disease with 22 total confirmed cases of coronavirus: eight in Queensland, four in New South Wales, six in Victoria, three in South Australia and one in WA. Of those people, 10 have recovered and the others are in stable conditions.

Seven cases are passengers who were on the Diamond Princess repatriation flight from Japan. They were in quarantine at the Manigurr-ma Village Howard Springs facility in Darwin when they tested positive to coronavirus. All have returned to their home states for medical treatment.

The 266 Australian evacuees from Wuhan have all gone home after clearing a 14-day quarantine period. Travel restrictions to Australia have been extended for a further week to February 29.

Foreign nationals – excluding permanent residents – who have been in mainland China will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they left mainland China while Australian citizens and permanent residents will still be able to enter, as will their immediate family members (spouses, legal guardians and dependants only).

Australian Academic Ian MacKay, from the University of Queensland, believes the virus will eventually reach pandemic levels.

“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,” he said.

Marion Koopmans, a professor of viroscience and WHO advisor, fears that COVID-19 has spread due to gaps in knowledge and time wasted writing grants instead of acting.

“Whether it will be contained or not, this outbreak is rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the disease X category, listed to the WHO’s priority list of diseases for which we need to prepare in our current globalized society,” she wrote in the journal Cell.

Disease X is a category allocated by WHO to an unknown virus that can cause disease and may eventually reach epidemic levels.

“But unfortunately, as in past outbreaks, key knowledge gaps and medical countermeasures need to be assessed on the fly, and scientists and public health experts alike are wasting precious time writing grant applications to do what we long know needs to be done but which is not part of routine investment in science and (global) public health preparedness,” she said.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *