China virus outbreak will last months at least

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The deadly new coronavirus that has broken out in China, 2019-nCoV, will afflict a minimum of tens of thousands of people and will last at least several months, researchers estimate based on the first available data.

“The best case scenario, you would have something… where we go through the spring into the summer, and then it dies down,” David Fisman, a professor at the University of Toronto who wrote an analysis of the virus for the International Society for Infectious Diseases, told AFP.

“It’s not something that’s going to end the next week or the next month,” said Alessandro Vespignani, a professor at Northeastern University. He is part of a group of researchers that manages an online dashboard about the outbreak.

Epidemiologists have no crystal ball. They have only piecemeal information on the new virus, which appeared in December. They use mathematical models to estimate the actual number of cases, as of the current date, and compare them to past outbreaks — but many of their hypotheses remain uncertain.

Until the past weekend, researchers thought that infected people were not contagious until they began exhibiting symptoms, such as fever, respiratory problems, and pneumonia. But Chinese authorities said Sunday they had established the opposite.

US health authorities said Monday they had not seen evidence that asymptomatic patients can infect other people. But if they can, this would definitely change the outbreak’s dynamics.

The first estimates for the length of the incubation period — about two weeks — are recent.

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