Public health expert warns 50% need immunity before victory can be declared
Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong
A Hong Kong public health expert, who was part of the World Health Organization visit to Wuhan in January, has warned that half of the world’s population would need to have immunity to coronavirus before a victory can be declared.
Gabriel Leung, who is chair of public medicine at the University of Hong Kong, added that a viable vaccine could be as far as two years away.
Hong Kong has seen cases plummet over the past week but Prof Leung said the city, which recently extended local social distancing measures, could not tempt fate.
“We should not declare victory until we’ve reached the finish line. And the finish line is at least 50 per cent of immunity in the world’s population, including in Hong Kong,” he said.
Scientists have been waiting for more extensive serological tests to get a clearer picture of levels of community immunity and infection, but the WHO has warned that early data has shown a lower proportion of people with antibodies than they were expecting.
Prof Leung said health inequalities in the developing world could hamper efforts to suppress the pandemic.
Prof Leung criticised the current debate over how the outbreak started, saying it was premature to ask a marathon runner how the race started while they were still running the race. He declined to reveal any more details about his discussions with mainland doctors and health officials.
“I can’t really sort of go and discuss my personal views, during the exigencies of the pandemic, when a very detailed report [on the WHO China visit] has already been issued, and as one out of 25 members of that group, I think that it would not be appropriate for me to do so,” he said.
The professor said he did back an “in depth, systematic, scientific, dispassionate and objective” inquiry at the very end of the pandemic.
The comments come after Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary said there needed to be a “deep dive” into the outbreak and after Australia called for an independent inquiry into the issue.