Novel coronavirus (133) Coronavirus predictions - 80% of population?

16 March, 2020

Dear colleagues,

It is widely reported in European countries that the majority of the population may become infected with coronavirus. This is feeding a sense of panic that may be misplaced. (The implication is that countries with weaker health systems may expect even higher penetration.)

The Guardian newspaper today reports a 'secret' briefing from Public Health England which says that: “As many as 80% of the (UK) population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.”

Can anyone explain why 80% of the UK population are expected to be infected? This seems to contradict the current experience in China. In China there are 'only' 80,000 confirmed cases. Even if we round this up to 100,000 and multiply it by 10 (10 unidentified cases for every identified case), this would make the number of possible cases in China about 1 million: less than 0.1% of the Chinese population. China now seems to be on top of the epidemic. Even if we consider only Wuhan and Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, I understand there were around 60,000 cases in a city of 10 million. That is still less than 1%, and the number of new cases each day has dropped to a tiny fraction of what it was.

I am aware that some pandemics such as H1N1 did indeed affect huge numbers, as many as one in four of the world's population. But H1N1 is a different type of virus.

SARS was caused by a coronavirus and caused only 8,000 infections worldwide and 700 deaths in 2003/4.

So why do we expect the new coronavirus to infect 80%?

I've been trying to google the answers in vain. Looking forward to hear from experts who can explain.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: