Hong Kong, Feb 1 : Hong Kong could see an almost 2,000 per cent increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases over the next two weeks as people return to the city from mainland China after the Lunar New Year holiday, a scientist has claimed.
Addressing the media here on Friday, Yuan Hsiang-yu of City University, called the start of February a "critical time for the government", the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said in a report.
As of Saturday, 259 people were killed due to the coronavirus in China, with a total of 11,791 infected cases.
In Hong Kong, the number of cases rose to 13.
"The next two weeks will be a critical time for the government," Yuan said.
"Scientific estimates of potential cases could help with planning ahead for the manpower needed to track down patients and their contacts."
On Thursday, Hong Kong closed six entry points from China and cut flights and bus services to and from the mainland in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly disease.
Yuan's calculations were based on the prediction by University of Hong Kong professor Yuen Kwok-yung that on January 28, the fourth day of Lunar New Year, between 200,000 and 300,000 people would travel to Hong Kong from the mainland, leading to more cases of the coronavirus in the city, said the SCMP report.
Yuan said that even just 15 imported cases could potentially trigger a massive outbreak in Hong Kong, if stringent prevention measures were not taken.
Despite the closure of six checkpoints, calls for a complete border shutdown have continued from various sectors, including medical workers, as the spread of the coronavirus continues.
As the Chinese government scrambles to contain the outbreak, the contagion has spread to all of the country's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as to at least 22 other countries.
More than 120 people outside China have been diagnosed with the potentially deadly virus.
The World Health Emergency has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.