Virus expert: As much as 70 percent of world's population could get coronavirus

A Harvard University epidemiologist says that as much as 70 percent of the world’s population could get the coronavirus.

Marc Lipsitch told CBS News in an interview airing Monday that "40 to 70 percent" of the global population could become infected with coronavirus and that it’s “almost inevitable” that the virus will impact the “entire globe.” He added that 1 percent of those who develop symptoms could die.  

“That is a projection, so we will find out if it's accurate as things go on,” Lipsitch said. “It is the best estimate that I've been able to make based on a combination of the mathematical models that we use to track and predict epidemics.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Lipsitch pointed out that some people who are infected show no or almost no symptoms, but it’s unclear how many cases like that exist. 

“I think there's real reason for people to be concerned,” he said. “I also think that we can turn that concern into actions that will make the situation better.”

He emphasized that the risk of infection appears to increase with age and encouraged viewers to stay home if they are feeling sick. But he added that the coronavirus outbreak is “not an existential threat.”

“This is, qualitatively, it's very much like a bad pandemic of influenza, which we experienced arguably twice or three times in the 20th century,” Lipsitch said. “It's worse than the one that we experienced in 2009. But none of those brought civilization close to its knees.”

The coronavirus has infected at least 101 people in the U.S., causing at least six deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University

Globally, more than 90,000 cases have been confirmed, with more than 3,000 deaths. The majority of both have occurred in mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated.