Scientists who warned about symptomless spreading were ignored

The global total of known coronavirus cases hit a bleak total of 10 million overnight, but its spread could have contained and tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the world had paid attention to one team of scientists in Germany.

Back in January, a Munich team discovered that the virus was spreading between people with no symptoms but the world wasn’t listening to them.

Health officials and political leaders played down or denied the risk of symptomless spreading, while leading health agencies including the World Health Organisation often provided contradictory and misleading advice.

Dr Camilla Rothe — who is an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital — told the New York Times she was told by experts around the world, despite her discoveries, that only people with symptoms could spread the coronavirus.

“People who know much more about coronaviruses than I do were absolutely sure,” she said.

However, her warnings fell on deaf ears and opportunities to stop the spread through measures like restricting international travel or ordering healthy people to wear masks were missed.

Five months on, it is now widely accepted that people who don’t seem to display any symptoms can spread the virus, but it is too late to stop the spread in many nations.

In some countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and China it is estimated that between 30 to 60 per cent of spreading occurs when people have no symptoms.

In an in-depth analysis of what went wrong, New York Times reports that the costly delay was a product of “faulty scientific assumptions, academic rivalries and a reluctance to accept that containing the virus would take drastic measures”.

It pointed to Australia as an example of a nation that fared far better than most because the Government moved quickly to quarantine seemingly healthy travellers on arrival and therefore preventing the risk of them silently spreading the virus.

The UK by comparison continued to allow travellers from anywhere to step through customs and onto Britain’s street with no checks up until this month – leading to an explosion in cases.

Now the virus is spreading faster than it ever has before with one million new cases recorded in the last six days.

Globally, confirmed COVID-19 cases passed the 10 million mark and confirmed deaths more than half a million, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, with the US, Brazil, Russia and India having the most cases.

The US also has the highest virus death toll in the world at over 125,000. US Government experts last week estimated the US alone could have had 20 million cases.

The spike has led officials in Texas, Florida and other states to tighten restrictions on business again.

In Europe, Britain’s government is pledging to support local officials in thecity of Leicester amid reports that a spike in COVID-19 cases could prompt authorities to lock the city down. So far, Britain has not targeted a specific region for a lockdown.

“We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks, in just the last three or four weeks in particular,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told BBC One on Sunday.

Pressed on the Leicester lockdown, she added: “With local flare-ups, it is right we have a localized solution in terms of infection control, social distancing, testing and many of the tools … to control the virus, to stop the spread.”

South America is emerging as a new virus epicentre. The country with the second-highest number of recorded cases is Brazil, with a total of 1.3 million, and deaths in excess of 57,000.

Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to climb to a new high of more than 371,000, including 9,484 deaths, according to figures released Sunday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Asia is also continuing to be hit hard. On Sunday, India reported additional 19,906 confirmed cases, taking its total to nearly 529,000 with 16,095 deaths.

China reported 17 new cases, all but three of them from domestic transmission in Beijing. But authorities say a campaign to conduct tests on employees at hair and beauty salons across the city has found no positive cases so far.

Australia has recorded 7694 cases of coronavirus, with 3177 in New South Wales, 2036 in Victoria, 1067 in Queensland, 609 in Western Australia, 440 in South Australia, 228 in Tasmania, 108 in the ACT and 29 in the Northern Territory.

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