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India among top 30 countries at ‘high risk’ from coronavirus spread: Study

NEW DELHI: India is among the top 30 countries at “high-risk” from the spread of the deadly coronavirus, according to a study based on the number of air travellers predicted to arrive in the countries from the worst affected cities in China.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK compiled a list of cities and countries they believe are at high risk from the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) — which has killed over 100 people so far, and infected thousands.

The most “at risk” countries or regions worldwide are Thailand (1), Japan (2), and Hong Kong (3).

The US is 6th on the list, Australia 10th, the UK 17th and India 23rd, the researchers said in the study released on Tuesday.

According to the study by the university’s WorldPop team, Bangkok in Thailand is currently the city most at risk from a global spread of the virus.

Hong Kong is second on the list, followed by Taipei in Taiwan.

Sydney, New York and London are among the top 20 other major international cities ranked in the research, released on Tuesday.

Within mainland China, the cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing are all identified as high-risk by the researchers, along with the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Sichuan and Henan.

“It’s vital that we understand patterns of population movement, both within China and globally, in order to assess how this new virus might spread — domestically and internationally,” said Andrew Tatem, a professor at the University of Southampton.

“By mapping these trends and identifying high-risk areas, we can help inform public health interventions, such as screenings and healthcare preparedness,” Tatem said.

The team used anonymised mobile phone and IP address data — which helps to identify devices — along with international air travel data to understand typical patterns of movement of people within China, and worldwide, during the annual 40-day Lunar New Year celebrations.

From this, they identified 18 Chinese cities — including Wuhan — at high-risk from the new coronavirus, and established the volume of air passengers likely to be travelling from these cities to global destinations over a three month period.

The team, including researchers from the University of Toronto in Canada, and the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was then able to rank the top 30 most at-risk countries and cities around the world.

The researchers acknowledge that their analysis is based on ‘non-outbreak’ travel patterns, but highlight that a high proportion of people travelled with symptoms at an early stage of the outbreak, before restrictions were put in place.

Travel cordons are likely to have only coincided with the latter stages of peak population numbers leaving Wuhan for the holiday period, the researchers noted.

According to Wuhan authorities, it is likely that more than five million people had already left the city, they said.

“The spread of the new coronavirus is a fast moving situation and we are closely monitoring the epidemic in order to provide further up-to-date analysis on the likely spread,” said Shengjie Lai from the University of Southampton.

“This includes the effectiveness of the transport lockdown in Chinese cities and transmission by people returning from the Lunar New Year holiday, which has been extended to February 2,” said Lai.