One of the world’s top infectious disease experts has tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as global cases surged past 400,000 on Wednesday, after 100,000 were recorded in just the past four days.
Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, has been a key voice in the US providing information about the disease. Lipkin was also a consultant on the 2011 film Contagion, starring Gywneth Paltrow and Matt Damon, which told the tale of a mysterious killer virus.
Speaking to Fox Business News about the use of blood plasma from recovered patients to treat people with the infection, Lipkin described his experience as “miserable”.
“If it can hit me, it can hit anybody,” he said. “I know where I think I got it but that’s not the same as proving. But it doesn’t matter. This virus can be found all over the United States.”
Lipkin was a key player in the scientific studies into the West Nile virus and the Sars coronavirus. He went to China in January to discuss containment measures for Covid-19.
There are now nearly 400,000 coronavirus cases around the world, with 100,000 new infections added in just four days and surging numbers in the United States, Spain and Italy.
Two days of successive declines in Italy – the current global hotspot for Covid-19 – were reversed, with 743 more people killed. The illness has now taken 6,820 lives in the country, the highest number in the world.
Spain announced a record daily rise of 6,584 new infections, bringing its overall total to 39,673. The number of deaths also jumped by a record 514 to 2,696.
Up to 14 per cent of infections in Spain are medical professionals.
In addition to Lipkin, Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London who has been modelling infection trends, has tested positive.
Ben Cowling, professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health, said that being an epidemiologist did not lower the risk of infection.
“Any of us could potentially be infected,” Cowling said.
“I think [the risk] is similar to others, depending on the location. A lot of people have been infected in London and New York.”
As the pandemic accelerates, the World Health Organisation has called for aggressive and targeted tactics to curb the spread.
WHO figures suggest it took four days for infections to jump from 209,839 on March 19 to 292,142 on March 22. A further spike occurred on Monday, to 332,930, followed by another a day later, bringing the global total to 372,757, as of Tuesday.
On mainland China, the National Health Commission reported 47 new infections and four new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total numbers there to 81,218 and 3,281, respectively. The commission said all of the new infections were imported, bringing the total of cases which have originated abroad to 474. Most involved returning Chinese nationals, officials said.
The WHO has warned that the next epicentre of the pandemic could be the US, where cases rose 32 per cent in a single day on Monday, to more than 44,000. So far, 544 people in the US have lost their lives to Covid-19.
Despite the dramatic increase, there appears to be confusion in the US over whether the Trump administration will formally implement the Defence Production Act to secure supplies of the protective medical equipment needed to fight the disease.
Hours after Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN his team was preparing that day to use the Act for the first time, President Donald Trump told reporters in a briefing he did not have to use it, “but the threat of it being there is great leverage”.
Trump has also indicated that he wants to scale back restrictions on movement in the US in favour of rebooting the country’s bruised economy. He claimed, without evidence, on Monday that deaths caused by a prolonged economic slowdown would “definitely” outnumber those caused by Covid-19.
Additional reporting by Owen Churchill, Kinling Lo and Reuters
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