The outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan, China, has generated 24,500 confirmed cases, including 492 deaths, as of 5 February 2020. The virus (2019-nCoV) has spread elsewhere in China and to 24 countries, including South Korea, Thailand, Japan and USA. Fortunately, there has only been limited human-to-human transmission outside of China. Here, we assess the risk of sustained transmission whenever the coronavirus arrives in other countries. Data describing the times from symptom onset to hospitalisation for 47 patients infected early in the current outbreak are used to generate an estimate for the probability that an imported case is followed by sustained human-to-human transmission. Under the assumptions that the imported case is representative of the patients in China, and that the 2019-nCoV is similarly transmissible to the SARS coronavirus, the probability that an imported case is followed by sustained human-to-human transmission is 0.41 (credible interval [0.27, 0.55]). However, if the mean time from symptom onset to hospitalisation can be halved by intense surveillance, then the probability that an imported case leads to sustained transmission is only 0.012 (credible interval [0, 0.099]). This emphasises the importance of current surveillance efforts in countries around the world, to ensure that the ongoing outbreak will not become a global pandemic.
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