Where is the new coronavirus most likely to spread?

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As Chinese health officials fight to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened nearly 6 000 and killed more than 130, British researchers have mapped out which international cities are most vulnerable to its spread.

While the greatest risk for infection with what is now dubbed 2019-nCoV are the cities of Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei, that doesn't mean other cities around the world are safe.

New York City and London are among the 30 cities most likely to see coronavirus infections, according to a team of experts in population mapping (known as WorldPop) at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

The three countries/regions worldwide most at risk are Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong. The United States is 6th on the list, Australia is 10th and the United Kingdom is 17th.

"It's vital that we understand patterns of population movement, both within China and globally, in order to assess how this new virus might spread - domestically and internationally," Andrew Tatem, director of WorldPop, said in a Southampton news release. 

"By mapping these trends and identifying high-risk areas, we can help inform public health interventions, such as screenings and health care preparedness."

Fast-moving situation

Report lead author Shengjie Lai, a research fellow at Southampton, added that "the spread of the new coronavirus is a fast-moving situation and we are closely monitoring the epidemic in order to provide further up-to-date analysis on the likely spread, including the effectiveness of the transport lockdown in Chinese cities and transmission by people returning from the Lunar New Year holiday."

The city/nation risk rankings are based on the number of air travellers predicted from the cities in mainland China hardest hit by the new coronavirus.

In mainland China, the cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing, and the provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Sichuan and Henan are high risk, the researchers said.

For the report, the researchers analysed 2013-2015 mobile phone and IP address data and 2018 air travel data to identify typical patterns of movement of people within China and worldwide during the annual Lunar New Year.

While their findings are based on travel patterns before the outbreak, the researchers noted that many people with symptoms travelled at the early stage of the outbreak, before there were travel restrictions.

For example, officials in the city of Wuhan, China - the epicentre of the outbreak - said it's likely that more than 5 million people had already left the city for the holiday before the travel crackdown.

Not only that, but Chinese health officials now say the virus can be spread by people who are not yet showing symptoms of the illness. The incubation period can vary from one to 14 days, with a typical duration of about 10 days. This makes containment especially difficult.

Image credit: Getty Images

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