WHO’s Dr. Michael Ryan: The Preliminary Estimate of the 2019-nCoV Mortality Rate is 2%

The latest official Chinese figures of the death toll from the Wuhan virus, and of those infected have been released:

Infected: 5,974

Dead: 170

Mortality Rate: 170/5,974 x 100 = 2.84%

The following is from the Associated Press regarding the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan about his recent trip to Bejing, to meet with China’s President Xi and other Chinese public health officials:  

“To date, about 99% of the nearly 6,000 cases are in China. Ryan estimated the death rate of the new virus at 2%, but said the figure was very preliminary. With fluctuating numbers of cases and deaths, scientists are only able to produce a rough estimate of the fatality rate and it’s likely many milder cases of the virus are being missed.”

It is important to stress that milder cases are not being reported. Those milder cases, if factored into the mortality rate, would decrease it significantly, because the number of infected would increase significantly.

Given the fact that there is a widespread shortage of 2019-nCoV test kits available in China, it is likely the Chinese and the world will never know the actual number of infected patients, since those who become better will not be tested.

This is why the Chinese figures are not accurate, and will likely never be accurate, even though the first case was diagnosed in Wuhan on December 8, 2019.

This is the nature of these types of events.

But as time goes on, the scientific research and more evidence about this virus will produce greater clarity.

For example, the range of the incubation period has been narrowed from an earlier and highly imprecise estimate of 1 to 14 days to, now, a five day incubation period.

And the rate of infection is now estimated to be 2.2, which higher than the 1.3 rate of influenza, as a point of reference. The 2.2 infection rate number means that each 2019-nCoV infection is estimated to produce 2.2 more infections. But again, this number could change.

As the AP reported Ryan said:

that while scientists believe the outbreak was sparked by an animal virus, it’s unclear if there are other factors driving the epidemic. “Without understanding that, it’s very hard to put into context the current transmission dynamics.”

In other words, is there a reservoir where the virus is living that is enabling it to pass to humans from that reservoir, or not? This is among the unknowns.

Finally, the good news is that, as AP reported:

Although the Chinese health minister and others have suggested that the virus is spreading before people get symptoms, data to confirm that has not yet been shared widely beyond China. “It’s still unclear whether that takes place,” said Malik Peiris, chair in virology at the University of Hong Kong.

One other point which bears mentioning is that the quarantine efforts undertaken by China may fail. The virus may eventually go global. This will be a great lesson in humility and in the limits of authoritarian rule.

If that is the case, then quarantine will not be an option that other governments will or should or can take, because since the virus has eclipsed the draconian Chinese quarantine, it’s obviously ineffective.

Ultimately, humans with the innate ability to resist the virus will survive. That percentage of survivors appears to be 97% to 98%. As a comparison, the survival rate of the seasonal flu is 99.9% Over the course of the next month, the mortality rate of 2019-nCoV will further clarify itself.

Given what the World Health Organization has learned from its trip to China and the new precision about understanding the specific characteristics of this virus — its estimated mortality rate, the transmission rate and the five day incubation period — WHO now has much more accurate data from which to make an informed decision about whether or not to declare the Wuhan virus a “public health emergency of international concern.”

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