The Chinese New Year celebration is about to begin, and hundreds of millions of people will travel across China as part of their tradition to celebrate with family and friends. Many visitors from other countries will also visit China, making the spread of the disease go global.

Wuhan city is a thriving city of 11 million people, and it serves as a major hub for travelers across China.

With a worrisome SARS-like virus infecting people in Wuhan, the possibility of the virus spreading throughout China, and the rest of the world, is real.

While authorities are playing the scare down, real numbers of those infected are not known.

The coronavirus infected another 137 victims over the weekend in Wuhan, and another two in Beijing and one in Shenzen, bringing the ‘official’ total of those infected to 201, with three deaths and nine patients in a critical condition.

On Monday, South Korea recorded its first victim of the pneumonia-like virus, following Japan and Thailand.

Flights arriving in the United States from Wuhan will be screened for the infection at San Francisco airport and New York’s JFK—both receive direct flights—as well as Los Angeles, a hub for many flights.

But a paper published Friday by scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London suggests the total number of cases of infected people could be far bigger than official totals, saying the numbers could be close to 1,700. This estimate is based on reports of two cases in Thailand and one in Japan.

“For Wuhan to have exported three cases to other countries would imply there would have to be many more cases than have been reported,” professor Neil Ferguson, one of the authors of the report, told the BBC. “I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago,” he said while adding that it was “too early to be alarmist.”

“People should be considering the possibility of substantial human-to-human transmission more seriously than they have so far,” he continued, saying it was “unlikely” that animal exposure was the sole source of infection.

The genetic code of the coronavirus has been demonstrated to be more closely linked to SARS than any other human coronavirus. Human to human contact to transmit the infection remains a possibility, although not yet proven.

According to the World Health Organization: While the cause of the pneumonia seems to be a novel coronavirus, transmission potential and modes of transmission remain unclear. Therefore, it would be prudent to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections while traveling in or from affected areas (currently Wuhan City) by:

  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
  • frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
  • avoiding close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals;
  • travelers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and .sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.)