KILLER coronavirus could infect 60 per cent of the world's population if it's not controlled, a top health official has warned.
It comes as the World Health Organisation said the recent confirmed cases of the illness may only be the "tip of the iceberg".
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Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine in Hong Kong, told the Guardian that the priority was to figure out the size and shape of that "iceberg".
He also warned that if the death rate reaches just one per cent, the potential spread means it could still kill thousands of people.
So far, more than 1,000 people have died while at least 43,000 have been infected.
Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to spread the virus to about 2.5 other people – giving an "attack rate" of 60 to 80 per cent.
Prof Leung, who played a major role in the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, said: "Sixty per cent of the world’s population is an awfully big number."
He suggested that two-thirds of the world might not be infected at the same time but rather the virus "will come in waves".
The expert added: "Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well."
Once the scale of the epidemic has been established, he said they would then need to decide whether containment methods which are currently being used are enough to stop the spread of the new virus.
China has put its cities – including Wuhan where the outbreak started – into lockdown in a desperate bid to contain the virus.
Other places where the disease has been identified, including a cruise ship off the coast of Japan, have been isolated.
But Prof Leung warns that if this method of containment fails the world will have to switch tactics and work to mitigate its effects.
He also said that the period of time in which people were infected but show no symptoms remained a big issue.
What to do if you're worried you've got coronavirus
BRITISH health chiefs have raised the coronavirus risk to the public from low to moderate.
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
The majority of those who have been infected with the virus so far have either visited China or been in close contact with someone who has.
But if you are concerned known the signs is one of the best ways to protect yourself from 2019-nCoV.
Symptoms usually include:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- difficulty breathing
In most cases, you won't know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus.
But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract, it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.
It is incredibly contagious and is spread through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.
The best way to prevent catching any form of coronavirus is to practice good hygiene.
If you have cold-like symptoms, you can help protect others by staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with others.
You should also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze then throw it away and wash your hands.
Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces which you may have touched is also important.
If you have returned from Wuhan in the last 14 days:
- Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with other flu viruses
- Call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the city
- your recent travel to the city
If you are in Northern Ireland, call your GP.
Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
Meanwhile, leading symptom-checking provider to the NHS Doctorlink has been updated to help identify patients' risk of having coronavirus.
It comes after scientists warned the incubation period for the killer coronavirus could be up to 24 days in rare cases.
Officials had previously thought the time frame between infection and the onset of symptoms ranged between one and 14 days.
But new research by Chinese government medical advisers warned their tests show it could be up to ten days longer.
Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) today said China's coronavirus outbreak poses a "very grave threat for the rest of the world".
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, was addressing the start of a two-day meeting aimed at accelerating research into drugs, diagnostics and vaccines into the flu-like virus amid growing concerns about its ability to spread.
He said: "With 99 per cent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world."
Many questions remain about the origin of the virus, which crossed the species barrier after emerging at a wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan in December, and is spread from person-to-person by droplets from coughing or sneezing.
Tedros added: "We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed roadmap for research around which researchers and donors will align.
"The bottom line is solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. That is especially true in relation to sharing of samples and sequences," Tedros said.
"To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity."
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