Nomura: asymptomatic coronavirus cases may drive second wave

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Fears about a second wave of the coronavirus continue to swirl. Now that China is lifting its strict lockdowns, the fear of asymptomatic coronavirus patients spreading it to others is even greater. The Asian nation is now serving as a test case of what will happen when the lockdown restrictions for COVID-19 are lifted.

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China lifts lockdown and other restrictions

CNN reports that large crowds poured into popular tourist sites and big cities in China over the holiday weekend. Officials continued to warn about a second wave of the coronavirus, but that didn't keep the crowds at bay.

People certainly weren't practicing social distancing at China's tourism hotspots either. Photos from the Huangshan mountain park on Saturday revealed thousands of people jammed together in close quarters. Many of them were wearing face masks, but officials have warned not to let the use of a face mask provide a false sense of security as far as social distancing goes.

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The state-backed Global Times reports that officials declared at 7:48 a.m. local time on Saturday that the park had already reached its capacity of 20,000 people per day. The park stopped accepting additional visitors at that point.

Imported cases trigger a second wave of the coronavirus

In a recent report, Nomura analyst Ting Lu and team said imported cases have been the main trigger of the second wave of the coronavirus so far in China. They pointed to the official Chinese report that Hubei province had almost no new cases each day. However, several sources have since called into question the official Chinese numbers.

Officially, Chinese authorities have said that new cases outside Hubei province were imported from abroad. The Nomura team believes the country successfully contained the first wave of the coronavirus, although they see a growing number of risks about a second wave. The number of imported cases is the first risk of a second wave of COVID-19.

Asymptomatic coronavirus cases to trigger second wave

The other risk they see as potentially causing a second wave of the coronavirus is asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Other sources have noted that China doesn't include asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus in the official numbers unless the patients become symptomatic.

The Nomura team pointed out that news reports from China indicate that some people contracted the coronavirus after contact with asymptomatic patients. Thus, they expect an upcoming spike in new cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks especially as the border of Hubei, the original epicenter, has reopened.

A Chinese respiratory expert told the Global Times last month that a single asymptomatic patient could infect up to 3.5 other people with the coronavirus. Considering that asymptomatic cases are not included in China's officially COVID-19 tally, there's no way to know how serious of an impact these cases could have in terms of a second wave of the coronavirus. However, a Wuhan-based virologist estimated that there could be over 200,000 asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus in China.

Another concern

The Nomura team also highlighted one other risk for a second wave of the coronavirus in China. That's the return of migrant workers to major cities as the lockdown and other restrictions are lifted. They said they've been seeing more and more evidence to support this concern.

Since late February, an increasing number of migrant workers have been returning to work as the Chinese government looked to resume business. Based on data from the Ministry of Transport and the Baidu Migration Index, Nomura estimated that almost 90% of migrant workers were back to work by the end of last month.

"Given more migrant workers are returning to crowded big cities, the rising number of hard-to-detect asymptomatic patients and its high infection rate, a second wave of infection in China is likely on the horizon," they wrote.