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Coronavirus: Who is most at risk of dying?

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PARIS: As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across more than 60 countries hit 87,000 yesterday with nearly 3,000 deaths to date, the profile of those most at risk of dying is coming into focus, experts said.

But the overall mortality rate remains uncertain, they said.

The World Health Organisation raised its global risk assessment to its top level on Friday, with the global health crisis edging closer to a pandemic.

Among those infected with the virus, older adults with pre-existing heart conditions or hypertension face a sharply higher risk, according to preliminary statistics, including from a study covering more than 72,000 patients in China.

Among a subset of 44,700 infections confirmed through lab tests as of last month, more than 80 per cent were at least 60 years old, with half over the age of 70, said the study.

Initial reports from outside China are similar, with the first 12 victims reported in Italy mostly in their 80s, and none under 60. Several had known heart problems.

Men in the China study were more likely to die than women by a margin of almost three-to-two. But whether that was due to behaviour - notably that most men in China smoke while few women do - or biological factors such as hormonal differences is still unknown.

One striking finding from the China study is the near absence of cases among children. The 10-19 age bracket comprised 1 per cent of infections and a single death.

Children under 10 made up less than 1 per cent, with no deaths reported.

"We are still trying to wrap our heads around the deficit of cases among those under 20," said Ms Cecile Viboud, an epidemiologist at the US National Institute of Health's Fogarty International Centre.

It is surprising infections of very young people are so low, she added, because they tend to be among the hardest hit by almost all respiratory infections - whether viral or bacterial.

The larger question of just how lethal Covid-19 is remains unanswered.

The ratio of confirmed cases to deaths suggests a mortality rate of 3.4 per cent, but several studies have concluded that up to two-thirds of infections in China and elsewhere have gone undetected, which would make the virus far less deadly. - AFP