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What US Influenza Data Tells Us About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus - a Brief Version of James Liang and Huang Wenzheng's Op-Ed

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In response to the outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), James Liang and Huang Wenzheng released a research paper comparing the data presented in the current novel coronavirus with the influenza in the United States over the past nine years. Author: James Liang, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Board Trip.com Group Ltd. (NASDAQ:TCOM), and Huang Wenzheng, Researcher of CCG (Center for China and Globalization) * The opinions expressed here are entirely their own. The Trip.com Group Ltd. was not involved in its creation.

The preliminary data suggested that the novel coronavirus is more contagious but less fatal than SARS, an epidemic that broke out in China in 2003. Some infected individuals show no or mild symptoms in the initial stage, and the most severe or fatal cases were those of elderly people with pre-existing conditions. These clinical features are similar to those of influenza. Novel coronavirus and influenza are both respiratory diseases caused by viral infection, though showing somewhat different symptoms.

The research analyses that the mortality rate of the novel coronavirus outside of Hubei, the originating place, is 0.1% lower than the figure of influenza in the US with 0.13%. It also says among the three communicable disease of novel coronavirus, SARS and influenza, the mortality rate of the novel coronavirus is closer to influenza and much lower than SARS.

At present, hospitals in Hubei and Wuhan do not have the capacity to treat such a massive number of suspected patients, leading to concern that not all infections are accounted for, and the rate of infection for influenza in the US seems to support this theory.

In sum, as long as the fatality rate does not increase significantly, even if many more cases would be diagnosed, we need not be overly pessimistic. It is certainly unwise to relax the disease control measures currently in place, but we hope our analysis can add to a better understanding of the epidemic, and help to dampen the panic around China and the world.

The observation from the analysis is also consistent with the Chinese government's recommendation for those with no or mild symptoms to remain at home under quarantine. No city can afford to treat all patients with mild discomforts, and excessive hospitalization as a result of panic could even increase the risk of infection.

The relatively low number of deaths outside Wuhan observed so far could be a sign that this disease might not be as fatal as it initially appeared. It is also noted that the World Health Organization did not recommend limiting trade and movement, and while it is unclear how much this decision had to do with the relatively low fatality rate outside Hubei and the zero fatalities outside China, governments and companies worldwide are hoped to take those important observations into account in their response to the outbreak of this epidemic.

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