The outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus has now reached the proportions of a pandemic, according to Professor Marc Van Ranst, the epidemiologist in charge of the reference laboratory at Leuven university hospital.
A pandemic occurs when an epidemic spreads to include a large area, up to and sometimes including entire continents. Examples from history include the Black Death, Spanish flu, HIV and the avian flu H5N1.
Covid’s predecessor among the coronaviruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) stopped short of changing from a series of local epidemics into a pandemic. According to Prof. Van Ranst, Covid has already passed that point.
“I think the criteria have now been filled to declare a pandemic,” he said. “This is an epidemic transmissible from human to human, which is currently present in several countries on different continents. So we may now speak of a pandemic,” he said.
Covid broke out in China, in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. It has now claimed 2,442 lives in China and infected some 63,000. And now, as well as spreading to South Korea, where infections have topped 400, five people have died in Iran.
Covid this week caused its first fatalities in Europe, with two deaths in Italy. The man at the root of that outbreak had never been to China, but had had contact with someone who had.
Another worry has now arisen on the question of quarantine for those suspected of being infected. At present, those cases – including Belgians repatriated from China and kept isolated in the military hospital in Brussels – are quarantined for 14 days, after which they can be declared free of the virus.
However a case has now come to light of a man in China who started to develop symptoms 27 days after testing positive for the virus – the incubation period, as it is called. That does not, nevertheless, negate the current advice on quarantine, Prof Van Ranst said.
“27 days is exceptional,” he said. “The average period of incubation is 5.2 days.”
The exceptional case should not be taken as a sign that the virus is undergoing a transformation.
“For quarantine, we are proposing a period of two weeks. That really is sufficient.”