It is unclear how many are currently infected. Not only because the numbers from China are inherently unreliable (lets not forget that China deliberately drove sick SARS patients around in ambulances to hide them from the World Health Organization back in 2003), but even if you trust China’s data it is clear they are hitting the limits of their testing capacity.
Officially, just over 40,000 people have been confirmed to be infected with the virus in China. However a study in the Lancet estimated back on January 25th that 75,000 people had already been infected and that the virus was doubling every 6.4 days — which would suggest that more than 300,000 people may now be infected with the virus. But no one knows the true number. Probably not even President Xi.
Even outside of China the numbers are unclear. The head of the WHO tweeted today that we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg of infected cases:
It is still unclear how exactly contagious the virus is.There is still a large range of possible R-nought values for the virus. The R-nought (R0) value, is a measure of how transmissible a disease is, it shows how many people each infected person infects in turn. Most estimates have put the R0 value between R2 and R4 (meaning that each infected person infects 2–4 other people). This is fairly high and does not bode well for hopes of containing the virus. But, it’s also still unclear if China has been able to lower the average transmission rate with their draconian lockdown and quarantine of entire cities.
Perhaps most crucially at this point, it is unclear what the mortality rate of the virus is. Estimates seem to range between 1% and 5%. But it is honestly impossible to determine the mortality rate at this point for a number of reasons.
Firstly, because it’s totally unclear how many people have been infected with only mild symptoms. If a million people have already been infected, the vast majority may never see severe symptoms and the mortality rate may be quite low. However, it’s also unclear if the deaths in China are being fully counted. There are many reports about patients dying before being tested and the deaths not counting on the official totals. We will have to wait to get a clear picture of the mortality rate.
That being said, Hubei province released their official fatality rates yesterday and some cities had rates as high as 4% and 5%. Although this number is fairly meaningless in objective terms for the reasons outlined above, it is telling that these rates are much higher than the official rates in other regions of China and suggests that the mortality rate may rise significantly if the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed as it has in these hardest hit regions of China. This is troubling given the WHO has stated that 15% of patients developed pneumonia and 3–5% required intensive care. Moreover, reportedly the virus does serious damage to people’s lower respiratory systems — supposedly it can take “…at least six months for patients to recover heart and lung function.” If this becomes endemic across the world, even developed nation’s healthcare systems will struggle to provide care….[ ]