Global health officials have met seemingly hopeful news on the coronavirus infection rate in China with a note of caution, as experts warn the relatively mild symptoms usually caused by the disease could mean thousands more cases have gone undetected.
China has reported a declining daily number of new cases, and a study by the country’s own Center for Disease Control said that represented an apparent trend of a declining infection rate, but the global tally was more than 73,000 confirmed infections on Tuesday. The arrival on Monday of 14 infected American evacuees from a cruise ship in Japan brought the total number of cases in the U.S. to at least 29.
The head of the World Health Organization said it was too early to know whether the seeming decline in new infections in China would continue. He said “every scenario is still on the table,” as scientists continue working to understand exactly how far the highly contagious virus has spread around the world.
As of Tuesday morning the disease had killed at least 1,874 people, all but five of them in mainland China. One of the most recent fatalities in the central Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, was the boss of a hospital in the city of Wuhan, who succumbed at the age of 51.
The virus only proves fatal, according to current data, in about 2% of people infected, with the risks increasing significantly for patients of older age. But infectious disease experts have spoken up to say that figure might actually be lower — the disease could be less deadly — because there could be thousands of undetected infections around the world, many of them mild or even asymptomatic.