Coronavirus: top medical stats professor warns of a real risk to global health

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) was first identified in Wuhan City, China. Picture: NIAID /Flickr

A TOP medical statistics professor has predicted the possible start of a coronavirus epidemic in the UK.

Professor Ben Cowling, 40, a former Sonning CofE Primary School pupil, warns that the virus
is a real risk to global health.

Now director of a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre in Hong Kong, Professor Cowling has been analysing coronavirus transmission patterns in China.

He has been working on this with China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. The results have already been published in world-leading medical journals.

In an exclusive interview with The Wokingham Paper Professor Cowling, whose parents still live in Sonning, said it was “a bit early to say” how effective UK measures against coronavirus were.

But the Department of Health say that they will be publishing daily updates on its website, however will not comment on speculation.

They add that the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the UK public from low to moderate.

The professor warned: “My prediction is that cases will begin to pop up in the UK by early March.

“Specifically, I predict that older adults will start being admitted to UK hospitals with pneumonia and testing positive for the coronavirus, but having no links to China or contact with travellers from China and no idea how they were infected.

“This will alert health authorities to the start of an epidemic.

“If or when that happens, the UK government will need to decide if any additional measures are warranted, for example asking people to wear face masks when they go out, or asking employers to allow work-from-home.”

Travel restrictions were intended to ‘buy time’ for improved preparations and better information. But the restrictions were not likely to buy a lot of time.

On Tuesday the World Health Organisation reported just two cases in the UK.

Professor Cowling added: “I think this new virus is a real risk to global health. We know that the infection can spread between people, we know it can cause severe disease, but we also know that there are many more mild infections than severe infections.

“What we do not yet know is the ratio of mild to severe infections, and that is what concerns us.

“We also hear worrying rumours that infections can be spread before a person becomes symptomatic – this … makes it more difficult for health authorities to control.”

Professor Cowling’s coronavirus work has been published in world-leading journals The Lancet magazine and New England Journal of Medicine. He has had hundreds of pieces of work related to his specialities published.

After Sonning Primary, he went to Reading School and then Warwick University where he later researched his PhD on medical statistics.

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