The spread of coronavirus around the globe is “much, much worse” than seen with Ebola, according to the man who helped discover the earlier disease.
Professor Peter Piot, head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Sky News that the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had the potential to turn into a “really bad situation”.
“This is much, much worse than Ebola,” he told Sky’s science correspondent Thomas Moore.
“Ebola requires very close contact for transmission. People are very scared of it, but frankly it is usually very contained. There are some exceptions.
“But because it [COVID-19] is a respiratory transmitted virus, that makes it so worrisome.
“It’s very infectious because there’s so much virus in your throat.
“So this is literally something you can catch by talking to somebody, which is not the case with other viruses.”
Professor Piot co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.
Its average fatality rate is 50%, although in some previous outbreaks it has been as high as 90%.
With COVID-19, meanwhile, the true fatality rate is not known. Experts estimate it to be around 1%.
Professor Piot said the world is entering a “new phase” of the coronavirus outbreak and it is now “truly a pandemic”.
He criticised Donald Trump’s decision to impose a travel ban on flights to the US from mainland Europe, describing it as a “pretty bizarre” move.
“The US has in-country transmission, lots of cases,” he said.
“I can only think that this is a political decision. It’s hard to imagine that this would have any impact.”
Addressing the situation in the UK, he said Britain will “very likely” be in the midst of a “serious epidemic” of coronavirus by Easter, with “probably well over 10,000 cases” by then.
Professor Piot was speaking before the government announced it was moving to the second phase of its four-stage COVID-19 response.
The “delay” phase includes social distancing measures such as potentially closing schools and cancelling sporting fixtures.