China’s decision to shutdown coronavirus-hit Wuhan city and the national emergency response delayed the spread of the virus to other Chinese cities by nearly three days and the overall efforts had cut the number of confirmed cases outside the city by 7.44 lakhs in mid-February, an international study has said.
The Wuhan travel ban alone had reduced 202,000 cases in China, delaying epidemic growth and buying valuable time for other areas to mobilise and response, a research study done by 22 scientists from 15 institutions in China, the US-UK said.
The study was published on health sciences preprint server medRxiv, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed and its results are up for debate, state-run China Daily on Saturday reported.
While China’s massive clampdown on Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, putting over 50 million people under lockdown since January 23 won praise from the WHO, Beijing faced criticism for not acting in time when the virus began spreading rapidly since December last year.
Another study published reported by the South China Morning Post on Friday said the first case was now traced to November 17 last year.
Interviews with whistleblowers from the medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realised they were dealing with a new disease in late December, the Post report said.
By December 31, 2019, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 266.
On January 1, 2020 the numbers jumped to 381.
Dr Li Wenliang, a 29-year-old whistle-blower who later died of the coronavirus was warned by local police when he first reported about the virus on social media on December 31 last year.
China on Saturday reported 13 new coronavirus deaths, taking the toll due to the disease to 3,189 amid a steady slowdown of the cases in Wuhan.
The overall confirmed cases on the mainland had reached 80,824 by the end of Friday, National Health Commission said on Saturday.
The details of the research paper published by China Daily on Saturday examined the impact of transmission control measures against COVID-19 in China from December 19 to February 19, the first 50 days of the epidemic.
Wuhan went into lockdown on January 23, followed by the whole Hubei province a day later.
The study said the spread of COVID-19 from Wuhan was rapid with 262 Chinese cities reporting cases within 28 days.
For comparison, the 2009 H1N1 influenza took 132 days to reach the same number of cities.
The Wuhan travel ban delayed the arrival of COVID-19 in other cities by an estimated 2.91 days on average.
More than 130 cities, covering over half the geographic area and population in China, benefited from the delay, the report said.
While the impact of the entire national emergency response is hard to evaluate, scientists found that suspending intra-city public transport, closing entertainment venues and banning public gatherings, contributed to the overall containment of the epidemic.
“With that caveat, we conclude that these control measures had a major impact on the COVID-19 epidemic, averting hundreds of thousands of cases by February 19,” the study said.
The deadly novel coronavirus that first originated in Wuhan in December last year has claimed over 5,000 lives and infected more than 134,000 people across 110 countries and territories, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) describing the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.