Covid-19 could be under control by end of April, China’s top respiratory expert says

Matt Ho

The Covid-19 pandemic could be under control by the end of the month, but uncertainty remains as to whether there will be another coronavirus outbreak next spring, China’s leading respiratory disease expert said.

“With every country taking aggressive and effective measures, I believe the pandemic can be brought under control. My estimate is around late April,” Zhong Nanshan, who heads a Chinese team of top experts that advises the government on managing the outbreak, said in an interview with Shenzhen Television broadcast late on Wednesday.

“After late April, no one can say for sure if there will be another virus outbreak next spring or if it will disappear with warmer weather … though the virus’ activity will certainly diminish in higher temperatures,” he said.

Zhong did not say how he reached his forecast but other experts have suggested a similar time frame based on the latest developments in the United States and Europe, which are the current epicentres of the health crisis.

Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, said this week that there were signs of the outbreak stabilising in Europe as the lockdowns imposed last month started to bear fruit.

In the US, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said that hospitals were likely to face the peak of Covid-19 patients around April 20.

Of the almost 1 million infections now confirmed around the world, more than 215,000 are in the United States, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there had been more than 421,000 across the European Union and Britain, with Italy and Spain combined accounting for almost half the total.

Zhong said that governments around the world have to work together to fight the pandemic.

“Countries, including the US, have adopted aggressive and effective measures … [and] the most primitive and effective measure is making people stay at home,” he said.

A study by Imperial College London released this week estimated that the 11 European countries that had introduced social distancing measures had helped to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and prevented as many as 59,000 deaths.

China to include symptom-free coronavirus carriers in national figures

Despite concerns in China over the risk of symptom-free carriers of the coronavirus, Zhong said he was confident that the monitoring procedures and quarantine measures already in place in the country would be sufficient to prevent a second wave of infections.

The use of antibody tests in addition to swab tests on people in 14-day quarantine would also help medical teams to more easily identify carriers of the coronavirus, he said.

China’s National Health Commission said that as of Wednesday, 1,075 asymptomatic carriers were currently under medical observation. A further 1,863 confirmed cases were still being treated in hospital, of which 701 were imported, it said.

Zhong also spoke about the possible long-term effects of contracting Covid-19. Last month, a study by Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority found that some people who had recovered from the disease experienced a drop in lung function of 20 to 30 per cent, and experienced problems such as a shortage of breath when walking quickly.

Zhong, however, said that based on his observation of Covid-19 patients and those who had recovered from similar diseases, like Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), lung damage – primarily pulmonary fibrosis – tended not to be long term, and that most people were back to full health within six to 12 months.

According to WHO figures published in 2004, 8,096 people around the world contracted Sars, of which 774 died, mostly in mainland China and Hong Kong.

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