Jan 26, 2020 09:24 PM

Opinion: Eight Thoughts on Stopping Emergency From Turning Into Disaster

There is no doubt that the coronavirus 2019-nCoV is a national emergency, and we must stop it from becoming a national disaster. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. A key issue of the new coronavirus virus outbreak, which started in Wuhan, is its very high rate of transmission in family clusters. We noticed that in a family of seven members, six were infected, which means the rate is as high as 83%. This statistic alone demonstrates that 2019-nCoV is undoubtedly a highly infectious virus.

2. Hong Kong, Macao or other world cities could easily become another Wuhan or another 2003 Hong Kong.

3. The next few days could be the last window of opportunity to stop the infection from spreading. This is because it is currently thought the incubation period of the virus is between three and six days, which means this is the time the disease is able to silently spread by infected Chinese mainlanders crossing the border into Hong Kong or Macao, especially by people who might have been visiting family on the mainland returning home.

4. Patients can be afebrile at the time of presentation, despite having radiological changes of viral pneumonia. Crucially this means they can still be shedding the virus as evident by positive RT-PCR in respiratory secretions despite not displaying any symptoms. (Editor’s note: RT-PCR, or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, is a widely used technique for testing viruses.) This makes the control of the disease by identifying simple observable symptoms very difficult.

5. Person-to-person transmission can occur in hospitals and at home. With easy intercity travel, the spread of the disease from Wuhan to places like Hong Kong and Macao would be incredibly easy.

6. We should advocate “universal masking outside home” and “frequent alcoholic hand-rub” now before it is too late. The Chinese New Year public holiday should be extended until the situation is stable to prevent returning mainland students turning schools and universities into hubs of infection.

7. Authorities need to stock up on diagnostic test kits, masks and other personal protective equipment, disinfectants, as well as Kaletra, ribavirin (low HCV oral dosing), and Betaferon drugs, and create effective quarantine areas,

8. We must do everything now to delay or mitigate the epidemic till outdoor temperatures rise to 30 degrees Celsius which hampers the environmental survival of this novel coronavirus.

Our situation is not good now. To stop it from turning into a crisis, the next 14 days are crucial.

Yuen Kwok-yung is an infectious disease professor at the University of Hong Kong.

This piece, based on a Facebook post published on Jan. 25, has been edited for clarity.

Contact editor Yang Ge (

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