Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), began in Wuhan city, Hubei province, in December, 2019, and has spread throughout China. Understanding the evolving epidemiology and transmission dynamics of the outbreak beyond Hubei would provide timely information to guide intervention policy.
Methods: We collected individual information from official public sources on laboratory-confirmed cases reported outside Hubei in mainland China for the period of Jan 19 to Feb 17, 2020. We used the date of the fourth revision of the case definition (Jan 27) to divide the epidemic into two time periods (Dec 24 to Jan 27, and Jan 28 to Feb 17) as the date of symptom onset. We estimated trends in the demographic characteristics of cases and key time-to-event intervals. We used a Bayesian approach to estimate the dynamics of the net reproduction number (Rt) at the provincial level.
Findings: We collected data on 8579 cases from 30 provinces. The median age of cases was 44 years (33-56), with an increasing proportion of cases in younger age groups and in elderly people (ie, aged >64 years) as the epidemic progressed. The mean time from symptom onset to hospital admission decreased from 4·4 days (95% CI 0·0-14·0) for the period of Dec 24 to Jan 27, to 2·6 days (0·0-9·0) for the period of Jan 28 to Feb 17. The mean incubation period for the entire period was estimated at 5·2 days (1·8-12·4) and the mean serial interval at 5·1 days (1·3-11·6). The epidemic dynamics in provinces outside Hubei were highly variable but consistently included a mixture of case importations and local transmission. We estimated that the epidemic was self-sustained for less than 3 weeks, with mean Rt reaching peaks between 1·08 (95% CI 0·74-1·54) in Shenzhen city of Guangdong province and 1·71 (1·32-2·17) in Shandong province. In all the locations for which we had sufficient data coverage of Rt, Rt was estimated to be below the epidemic threshold (ie, <1) after Jan 30.
Interpretation: Our estimates of the incubation period and serial interval were similar, suggesting an early peak of infectiousness, with possible transmission before the onset of symptoms. Our results also indicate that, as the epidemic progressed, infectious individuals were isolated more quickly, thus shortening the window of transmission in the community. Overall, our findings indicate that strict containment measures, movement restrictions, and increased awareness of the population might have contributed to interrupt local transmission of SARS-CoV-2 outside Hubei province.
Funding: National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and European Commission Horizon 2020.
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