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Background: Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in late 2019, there have been more than 152 affected regions and countries with over 110,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Methods: We analysed COVID-19 cases among travellers from mainland China to different regions and countries, comparing the region- and country-specific rates of detected and confirmed cases per flight volume to estimate the relative sensitivity of surveillance in different regions and countries. Results: Although travel restrictions from Wuhan City and other cities across China may have reduced the absolute number of travellers to and from China, we estimated that more than two thirds (70%, 95% CI: 54% - 80%, compared to Singapore; 75%, 95% CI: 66% - 82%, compared to multiple countries) of cases exported from mainland China have remained undetected. Conclusions: These undetected cases potentially resulted in multiple chains of human-to-human transmission outside mainland China.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome open research

Publication Date





MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London, London, UK.