The number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus could potentially double every six days in the absence of a major intervention by public health authorities, according to Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at University of Hong Kong (HKU).
Leung, who is also the founding director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Infection Disease Epidemiology and Control in Hong Kong, gave his forecast on the likely extent of the outbreak during a press conference held at HKU on Monday afternoon.
He said he had submitted his report to Beijing and Hong Kong authorities as well as to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Leung said according to his team’s model, the number of cases of Wuhan coronavirus including patients that are incubating (not showing symptoms) could approach 44,000 cases as of January 25.
This epidemic is growing at quite a fast rate and it’s accelerating,” said Leung.
The results of two scenarios -- one with a population quarantine as has been seen in Wuhan and one without -- were almost identical, suggesting “population quarantine may not be able to substantially change the course of the epidemic in the other major city clusters.”
In addition to Wuhan, Leung warned China could see epicenters of self-sustaining epidemics in other major cities in the mainland, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
"It is not a prediction, it is not certain, but these finding makes us concerned enough to alert the authorities and to alert the public,” Leung said.
According to Leung's forecast, the number of cases could peak between mid-May and mid-April in major cities.
In order to prevent this from happening, there would need to be “substantial draconian measures limiting population mobility sooner rather than later,” said Leung.
Leung said people need to be prepared for the outbreak to become a global epidemic, though it is "not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination…we must prepare better for it.”