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Coronavirus outbreak could be feared ‘Disease X’, says World Health Organisation adviser

The World Health Organisation revealed in 2018 that it was preparing for an unknown international epidemic dubbed "Disease X".

By David Mercer |Sky News|

The coronavirus outbreak could be the feared “Disease X” that experts have warned about, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser.

This is what COVID-19 looks like under the microscope. Pic: NIAID-RML
This is what COVID-19 looks like under the microscope. Pic: NIAID-RML

Prof Marion Koopmans, head of viroscience at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is “rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the Disease X category”.

The WHO revealed in February 2018 that it was preparing for an unknown international epidemic dubbed “Disease X”.

In its list of research and development priorities, the agency said it represented “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”.

Writing in the journal Cell, Prof Koopmans said: “Whether it will be contained or not, this outbreak is rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the Disease X category, listed to the WHO’s priority list of diseases for which we need to prepare in our current globalised society.

“Initial resemblances with the SARS outbreak in terms of its origin, the disease associated with infection, and the ability to spread are clear.

“But since 2003, global air travel has increased more than 10-fold, and the efforts needed to try to contain the epidemic are daunting.”

Prof Koopmans said key knowledge gaps were being assessed “on the fly” and public health experts were “wasting precious time writing grant applications to do what we long know needs to be done”.

She added: “Time will tell whether the consolidated efforts of the Chinese authorities and the international public health and research community will succeed.

“But we also need to understand how we make this model of preparedness future-proof.”

More than 79,000 suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified, mostly in China where it originated, with more than 2,600 deaths recorded.

There are fears of a global pandemic after a sharp rise in cases in countries including Italy and South Korea, as authorities race to contain the spread of the disease.

However the WHO said on Monday that the coronavirus outbreak was not out of control globally nor causing large-scale deaths and it was “too early” to speak of a pandemic.

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