Coronavirus epicenter could shift back to East Asia, expert warns

The epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak may return back to its starting point in East Asia, a Singaporean public health expert said Thursday.

Although the US is now considered the epicenter of the pandemic — with more than 200,000 cases — “in a month’s time, the epicenter will shift,” Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said on CNBC’s “Street Signs” program.

“Would it shift to South Asia?” Teo asked. “Would it shift to Africa or Latin America? We don’t know at the moment, but there is that real risk that the epicenters will continue to shift, and it could possibly even shift back to East Asia.”

COVID-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, but the virus has since spread to 180 countries and territories. China still accounted for the majority of cases through February, but now, the US, Italy and Spain are the hardest-hit.

Meanwhile, a second wave of infections appears to be emerging in countries like China and Singapore — where cases are being imported from overseas, CNBC reported.

Singapore’s first reported case occurred in late January, involving a tourist from China. The southeast Asian country managed to contain local infections through border controls and quarantines — but numbers are beginning to climb, with 1,000 people infected by midday Wednesday, according to the report.

“This is really the fear for what will be seeding the second wave, that countries that are still suffering the brunt of the coronavirus infection will be exporting people with the virus,” Teo said.

The epicenter may repeatedly shift until people develop herd immunity — where sufficient people in a population have become so immune to the bug that it halts the spread of the disease, he said.

That can happen either through a vaccine, or occur naturally as people are exposed to the virus, the expert added.

In the meantime, he added, it’s important to flatten the curve — or spread out new cases so they don’t overburden hospitals all at once.

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