Coronavirus: Estimated 44,000 cases in Wuhan alone - Hong Kong experts

HANGZHOU, CHINA - JANUARY 27 2020: A doctor at a community health station checks the body temperature of a visitor in Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Governments outside Hubei province have put tens of thousands of people who had stayed in Hubei in the past weeks into home quarantine for health observations.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Infectious disease experts in Hong Kong are calling for "draconian" measures against the deadly coronavirus, with new research estimating that 44,000 people are possibly infected in the Chinese city of Wuhan alone.

If the estimates are accurate, the number of cases is far higher than official figures, with recent reports claiming 2714 cases have been confirmed across China. 

On Monday (local time), University of Hong Kong academics estimated that 43,590 people in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, were infected as of Saturday - including those in the incubation stage of the virus.

According to the South China Morning Post, lead researcher Gabriel Leung and his team have estimated 25,630 Wuhan patients are showing symptoms, with the number set to double in 6.2 days according to mathematical modelling based on Saturday's global infection figures.

According to health officials, the new coronavirus is infectious during the incubation period and those with the virus may not immediately show symptoms.

The team's research shows all cities in mainland China are already suffering from "self-sustaining human-to-human transmission", the outlet reports. 

Leung said the outbreak could become "a global epidemic" and preparation is crucial.

"Substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility should be taken immediately," he told the Morning Post. "We must do more."

The team's study predicted the number of cases across five mainland cities - Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen - would peak between late April and early May.

Leung noted the team's predictions could be too negative, as they did not account for health intervention policies aside from Wuhan's lockdown.

The World Health Organisation has yet to label the coronavirus epidemic a global health emergency, while the death toll in China continues to climb. According to the health commission of China's Hubei province, 100 deaths have been confirmed in the country as of Tuesday (NZ time).

Meanwhile in New Zealand, Cabinet will decide whether to make coronavirus a notifiable disease on Tuesday afternoon. The decision would allow public health officials to isolate patients with coronavirus if required.

"We've been looking at our risk assessment, and I think it is fair to say that… there is a high likelihood that we will see a case here in New Zealand, and that's what we're planning for," Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, told RNZ's Checkpoint.

"This virus doesn't have a particularly high mortality rate and it's not particularly transmissible, but of course what we're seeing is a number of cases popping up across [China] and that comes back to our assessment of risk.

"We would expect to see a case but we don't expect that case to cause a sustained outbreak in New Zealand."

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