The number of confirmed coronavirus cases is climbing towards two million globally, but many more may have the virus.
That’s because a huge number of people may not be showing any symptoms at all.
A recent study published by the British Medical Journal has suggested that as much as 78% of infected people may be asymptomatic.
The paper comes from analysis of collated data published daily by the Chinese authorities from April 1 on the number of new coronavirus cases in the country.
It states ‘a total of 130 of 166 new infections (78%) identified in the 24 hours to the afternoon of Wednesday April 1 were asymptomatic.’ Additionally, the 36 symptomatic cases ‘involved arrivals from overseas’ according to China’s National Health Commission.
Tom Jefferson, an epidemiologist and honorary research fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said these details were ‘very, very important.’
He told the BMJ: ‘The sample is small, and more data will become available. Also, it’s not clear exactly how these cases were identified. But let’s just say they are generalisable. And even if they are 10% out, then this suggests the virus is everywhere.
‘If—and I stress, if—the results are representative, then we have to ask, ‘What the hell are we locking down for?’’
Eventually, large-scale antibody testing will be able to show how many people have already had covid-19 regardless of whether or not they exhibited symptoms.
Citing classified data, the South China Morning Post has reported China had already found more than 43,000 cases of asymptomatic infection through contact tracing.
The suggestion of asymptomatic carriers jibes with data from Sergio Romagnani, a professor of clinical immunology at the University of Florence, who looked at carriers in Italy.
Romagnani led research from blanket testing in a completely isolated village of roughly 3,000 people in northern Italy that showed the number of people with covid-19 symptoms fell by over 90% within 10 days by isolating people who were symptomatic and those who were asymptomatic
If the data is accurate and such vast amounts of people around the world are asymptomatic, the writers at the BMJ believe the lockdown currently enacted around the world is in vain.
In an article on the website of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Jefferson and Carl Heneghan, director of the centre and editor of BMJ EBM, write: ‘There can be little doubt that covid-19 may be far more widely distributed than some may believe. Lockdown is going to bankrupt all of us and our descendants and is unlikely at this point to slow or halt viral circulation as the genie is out of the bottle.
‘What the current situation boils down to is this: is economic meltdown a price worth paying to halt or delay what is already amongst us?’
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