The head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Peter Piot, said the disease outranked Ebola in terms of severity. He told Sky News: “This is much, much worse than Ebola. Ebola requires very close contact for transmission. People are very scared of it, but frankly, it is usually very contained. There are some exceptions.
“But because it is a respiratory transmitted virus, that makes it so worrisome.
“It’s very infectious because there’s so much virus in your throat.
“So this is literally something you can catch by talking to somebody, which is not the case with other viruses.”
Professor Piot is a Belgian microbiologist who has conducted research into emerging viruses such as Ebola and AIDS.
In the same year as the first Ebola virus was discovered, 1976, Professor Piot also became one of the pioneering researchers into AIDS – the life-threatening illness which arises from the HIV virus.
The scientist added coronavirus has the potential to become “a really bad situation”.
In his interview, he also criticised the decision of President Donald Trump to place a travel ban on flights from mainland Europe to the United States.
It appears only countries within the Schengen Agreement – those European states which have abolished passport and border control – will be affected by the ban.
However, Professor Piot described the move as “pretty bizarre”.
He added: “The US has in-country transmission, lots of cases.
“I can only think that this is a political decision. It’s hard to imagine that this would have any impact.”
Professor Piot also said the coronavirus was like going “back to the times of the Spanish flu”, however took comfort in the advances of modern medicine.
The World Health Organisation recently classified the coronavirus as a pandemic.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the organisation, described being “deeply concerned” by “alarming levels of inaction” towards tackling the virus.
However, the WHO chief told reporters the change of classification to a pandemic was not changing the organisation’s advice on the matter.
Today, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the Government would be moving into its second stage, delay, of a response to the virus.
Mr Johnson said: “It’s clear that coronavirus continues to spread across the world and our country over the next few months.
“It is now a global pandemic and the number of cases will rise sharply. The true number of cases is much higher perhaps than the cases we have confirmed with tests.
“This is the worst public health crisis for a generation. Some people compare it to seasonal flu – that is not right…this is more dangerous.
“I must level with you. Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.
“As we have said, we have a clear plan we are now working through. We are getting onto the next phase on that plan. This is now not just to contain the disease but to delay its spread and thereby minimise the suffering.”
Professor Piot, who is a grandfather himself, expressed concern about school closures announced in Ireland, Italy and France amongst other countries.
He said: “In this case, for COVID-19, children seem to be less affected.
“But the question I have, since I’m a grandfather, is who is going to take care of these children?
“There’ll be older people who are often grandparents. So, that may indirectly make things worse for those who are at higher risk of dying.
“We need to think things through.
“But the good news in this country is that all the decisions are grounded in very solid scientific advice.”
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