COVID-19 Update: The Global Spread

Published on February 21, 2020

Markets have been trying to “look through” the COVID-19 epidemic, taking solace in figures indicating a deceleration in the rate of new outbreaks and deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic that have been reported over the last few days out of China.

But even then, the disease has been spreading an ever wide web across the globe, even if in still small numbers, as predicted by Dr. Sarah Zaidi, Sc.D., M.Sc., in a report she wrote earlier this week exclusively for SGH Macro Advisors (SGH 2/17/2020, “Covid-19”) – with a key relevant summary conclusion included again below:


  • Many countries have moved quickly to impose quarantine measures and travel bans intended to halt the outbreak and possibly eradicate the microbe. However, the relative ease of respiratory transmission of COVID-19 has frustrated international efforts to prevent its rapid spread outside of China. Given the delay by China in first reporting the virus, and the networked nature of global travel and business, it is unlikely that the contain and kill strategy will be effective in the short term. 

Considering the most recent announcements of identified coronavirus cases around the globe, we asked Dr. Zaidi yesterday to provide a very brief update to her comprehensive report from earlier this week, enclosed below.

As in the 2/17/2020 report, the analysis is that of Dr. Zaidi alone, and is not attested to or verified by SGH Macro Advisors, LLC.

February 20, 2020 COVID-19 Update

By Dr. Sarah Zaidi, Sc.D., M.Sc.

The latest information on COVID-19 shows 1,872 new global cases (1,752 in China and 120 outside of China), bringing the total number of infections to 75,204 cases. The total reported deaths are 2,162, of which 11 are outside China, including the recent deaths of 2 in the city of Qom, Iran and 1 in South Korea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working with an international network of statisticians and mathematical modelers to determine the incubation period (time between infection and onset of symptoms), the serial interval (the time between symptom onset of a primary and secondary case, and the case fatality rate (the proportion of cases who die) of the virus. Based on the data from surveillance activities and the early cases in households or other closed settings, the preliminary numbers suggest the following:

Median incubation period of COVID-19: 5-6 days (ranging from 0 to 14 days)

Serial interval range4.4 to 7.5 days

Case fatality ratio within China: 2.3% as reported by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and based on 1,023 deaths among 44,415 laboratory confirmed cases as of 11 February.

More telling is the infection fatality ratio or the proportion of deaths among those infected, which currently ranges from 0.3% to 1% (compared to 0.1% for seasonal flu).

According to these models, travel restriction alone will have only a modest effect on the progression of the outbreak, and other measures such as early case isolation and population-level behavioral changes need to be put into place.

Since human-to-human transmission has been confirmed, the danger lies in transmission of secondary cases, COVID-19 infection in persons who have had no contact with anyone from Wuhan City or China.

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