Estimating the Instantaneous Asymptomatic Proportion With a Simple Approach: Exemplified With the Publicly Available COVID-19 Surveillance Data in Hong Kong

Chunyu Li, Shi Zhao, Biao Tang, Yuchen Zhu, Jinjun Ran, Xiujun Li, Daihai He

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The asymptomatic proportion is a critical epidemiological characteristic that modulates the pandemic potential of emerging respiratory virus, which may vary depending on the nature of the disease source, population characteristics, source–host interaction, and environmental factors. Methods: We developed a simple likelihood-based framework to estimate the instantaneous asymptomatic proportion of infectious diseases. Taking the COVID-19 epidemics in Hong Kong as a case study, we applied the estimation framework to estimate the reported asymptomatic proportion (rAP) using the publicly available surveillance data. We divided the time series of daily cases into four stages of epidemics in Hong Kong by examining the persistency of the epidemic and compared the rAPs of imported cases and local cases at different stages. Results: As of July 31, 2020, there were two intermittent epidemics in Hong Kong. The first one was dominated by imported cases, accounting for 63.2% of the total cases, and the second one was dominated by local cases, accounting for 86.5% of the total cases. The rAP was estimated at 23.1% (95% CI: 10.8–39.7%) from January 23 to July 31, and the rAPs were estimated at 22.6% (95% CI: 11.1–38.9%) among local cases and 38.7% (95% CI: 9.0–72.0%) among imported cases. Our results showed that the rAPs of local cases were not significantly different between the two epidemics, but increased gradually during the first epidemic period. In contrast, the rAPs of imported cases in the latter epidemic period were significantly higher than that in the previous epidemic period. Conclusion: Hong Kong has a high rAP of imported COVID-19 cases and should continue to strengthen the detection and isolation of imported individuals to prevent the resurgence of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number604455
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2021


  • COVID-19
  • epidemic
  • Hong Kong
  • instantaneous asymptomatic proportion
  • likelihood-based framework

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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