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Expert: Too Early to Tell When Virus Will Peak

People wear protective face masks in a bus in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Hong Kong on Tuesday reported its first death from a new virus, a man who had traveled from the mainland city of Wuhan that has been the epicenter of the outbreak. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A doctor who led the World Health Organization’s response to the 2002-03 SARS outbreak said it’s too early to tell when the new coronavirus will peak, but that it appears the disease is still on the increase.

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Dr. David Heymann said the spike in China’s caseload in recent days was partly attributable to the fact that Chinese officials expanded their search to include milder cases, not only people with pneumonia. Heymann declined to predict whether the virus would ultimately cause a pandemic, or worldwide outbreak. According to WHO, a pandemic requires sustained transmission of a disease in at least two world regions.

Heymann said as the new virus starts to spread beyond China, scientists will gain a much better understanding of the disease.

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“What we will see is the clearer natural history of the disease,” he said. “That will occur because all the contacts of people who have come into contact into these countries (where the virus has been exported) are being traced and watched very closely.”

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is an illness from the same virus family as the current outbreak.