COVID-19 Is Worst Pandemic Since Hong Kong Flu: World Bank

The World Bank says COVID-19 is the worst pandemic since the Hong Kong flu, a disease caused by a virus emerging more than 50 years ago that is still circulating today.

In a chapter on the outbreak in its upcoming Global Economic Prospects report, the bank described COVID-19 as “the latest in a long series of epidemics and pandemics during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

These have included Ebola in West Africa (2014-15), MERS in the Middle East (2012), swine flu (2009-10), SARS in East Asia (2002-03), Hong Kong flu (1968-69), Asian flu (1957-58) and Spanish flu (1918-19).

Released in Washington on Tuesday, the chapter on COVID-19 said greater frequency of epidemics “increases the likelihood that pandemics will break out.

“Since 1960, there have been more than 250 episodes of biological disasters with losses of life of over 10 per million population in the countries affected.”

And low-income countries had been “disproportionally affected by these types of disasters, whereas advanced economies were not affected,” the bank said.

Moreover, “the frequency of biological episodes has been increasing over time, but they have mostly been contained in size and severity.”

But that’s not the case with the current outbreak which, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), had a global death toll of almost 380,000 as of Wednesday.

“COVID-19 is the most severe pandemic since the Hong Kong flu, despite the unprecedented mitigation efforts that have been implemented,” the bank said.

Hong Kong flu had a mortality rate of about 0.2 percent while the Asian flu death rate a decade earlier was about 0.4 percent, killing about one million people worldwide.

The bank added that the mortality rate for the Spanish flu was 3.5 to 20 percent — which left 50 to 100 million people dead across the planet.

For COVID-19, “fatality rates are currently in flux, in part due to uncertainties over the true number of cases,” the World Bank said.

Death rates have ranged from 0.3 to 3.4 percent, “with many of the higher estimates likely to have been biased upwards due to shortfalls in testing and the presence of unrecorded asymptomatic cases.”

Compared with epidemics and pandemics over the past 100 years, “preliminary estimates suggest that COVID-19 may be considerably more infectious … but not among the most deadly for those infected.

“The range of estimates of COVID-19 case fatality rates is closer to estimates for the Asian and Hong Kong flus,” the bank said.

For Cambodia, there have been a total of 125 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the first positive case was detected in January, of them 123 have recovered. Yesterday, Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen urged Cambodians to “remain vigilant in maintaining our personal hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

According to Chinese medical reagent manufacturer Sino Biological Inc, the first record of Hong Kong flu appeared in the then British colony in July 1968.

By the end of the month, “extensive outbreaks were reported in Vietnam and Singapore,” the website of the Beijing-based company says.

And by September, “the flu reached India, Philippines, northern Australia and Europe.”

“That same month, the virus entered California from returning Vietnam War troops but did not become widespread in the US until December 1968. It would reach Japan, Africa and South America by 1969.”

Sino Biological says the relatively low death rate from Hong Kong flu — caused by a virus known as H3N2 — made it a Category 2 disease in terms of pandemic severity.

“The pandemic infected an estimated 500,000 Hong Kong residents, 15 percent of the population,” it says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, some one million people died worldwide from Hong Kong flu including 100,000 in the United States.

“Most excess deaths were in people 65 years and older,” it says. “The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.”

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press