Can the coronavirus epidemic hitting China reach Europe? The question arises, as Chinese officials continue to announce new cases on their soil, and eight cases have already been exported to other countries. An Inserm team led by researcher Vittoria Colizza within the Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health (Inserm / Sorbonne University) has modeled the possible spread of the epidemic in order to guide prevention and surveillance policies for the virus 2019-Sxy. The researchers point out, however, that this research-based model remains a theoretical tool for helping public decision-making and therefore has no predictive purpose.
Just two weeks after announcing the discovery of a new coronavirus virus responsible for severe pneumonia, China had 571 cases on its territory. In order to contain the epidemic, which has already caused 18 deaths, several drastic measures have already been put in place by the Chinese authorities, in particular travel restrictions from Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan is located. .
At the present time, many questions still arise about the origin of this new virus, baptized 2019-nCov, but also about the capacity of the epidemic to spread to other regions of the world, in particular the ‘Europe. In two weeks, eight cases have already been exported from China to Japan, South Korea, the United States, Thailand and Taiwan.
From the start of the epidemic, Inserm researchers under the aegis of the REACTing research group worked to develop possible models for the spread of the epidemic.
Under the direction of Inserm researcher Vittoria Colizza at the Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health (Inserm / Sorbonne University), a team is now able to propose a model allowing to anticipate a potential arrival of the epidemic in Europe in order to guide surveillance and prevention measures. It is nevertheless important to note that this model does not in any way constitute a prediction of the number of cases to come on French and European territory, but rather a theoretical tool to help public decision.
Air flows from China
To develop their model, the researchers looked at all the Chinese provinces reporting more than ten cases. Their estimates of the risks of exporting these cases are based on air flow data from these regions to Europe from January 2019 and from the OAG, a world leader in the collection of data on air flights.
What is the risk that at least one case will be imported into Europe in the next two weeks? This is the question the team sought to answer by developing two scenarios, that of a low risk of spreading the epidemic and that of a high risk of spreading.
The low-risk dissemination scenario is based on the state of the situation (7 cases exported from China) before the air quarantine decided by the Chinese government. He estimated the risk of exporting at least one case to Europe if seven cases were exported from the Chinese provinces affected by the epidemic in the next two weeks.
The high-risk scenario for the spread of the epidemic suggests an estimate of the same risk if three times as many cases were exported from China. “This is an arbitrary choice, but one which reflects the fact that the number of Chinese cases is constantly increasing and which makes it possible to anticipate the case of a more massive export of the number of infected persons”, underlines Vittoria Colizza.
According to the researchers, the risk of at least one case being imported into Europe in the first scenario is 33% and 70% in the second scenario. Given the air flows, the most exposed countries would be Germany and the United Kingdom. The risk of an infected passenger arriving in France is 5% in scenario 1 and 13% in scenario 2, and would mainly focus on airports in the Paris region. “Our results are not predictions, they simply identify where the risk is and where it is necessary to deploy surveillance and prevention meansincreasedinsists Vittoria Colizza.