Beyond China itself, Thailand is the country that most likely will have people who arrive at one of its airports with an infection by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has sickened more than 30,000 people. So says the latest update of a global risk assessment model created by a team of researchers from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Robert Koch Institute that relies on air travel data.
Next on the team’s list is Japan—Osaka’s international airport, interestingly, is more at risk than Tokyo’s—which is followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, and then the United States. Russia likely has more infected people flying in than India, Germany (mainly the Frankfurt and Munich airports) is the most vulnerable country in Western Europe, and Ethiopia is the only sub-Saharan African country to break into the top 30 of virus-threated countries.
So, how seriously should this model, and the dozens of other computer simulations of the outbreak, be taken? Scientists studying the 2019-nCoV outbreak are getting plenty of data to groundtruth and tweak their models. As of yesterday, for example, the most confirmed cases outside of mainland China were in Japan (45), Singapore (28), Thailand (25), Hong Kong (24), and South Korea (23). That could be considered a partial success for the Berlin model, but it also reflects that this is a dynamic outbreak that upends assumptions at a blinding speed; for example, the airport in Wuhan, China, the outbreak’s epicenter, was closed on 23 January, which radically altered airline exportation of the virus, and today there are 61 confirmed cases on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan.