China's coronavirus death toll climbs to 813 but new cases fall

K J M Varma

Beijing, Feb 9 (PTI) The death toll in China's coronavirus outbreak jumped to 813 on Sunday, surpassing global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, even as Chinese officials said the cases of deadly infection have started declining for the first time after weeks of sharp rise.

With 91 more people dying, most in Hubei province, the novel coronavirus death toll is now higher than the 774 people killed worldwide by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic that started in southern China.

China's National Health Commission in its daily report on Sunday said 2,656 new confirmed cases were reported , taking the total number of people infected with the deadly virus in 31 provincial-level regions in China to 37,287.

The commission said China's new confirmed cases of coronavirus pneumonia outside Hubei Province, the ground zero of the epidemic, have been dropping for the five consecutive days.

A total of 509 new confirmed cases were reported on Saturday outside Hubei, about 42.8 percent lower than the number reported on Monday, Mi Feng, spokesperson of the NHC was quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Sunday.

The numbers of new confirmed cases in these provinces during the past days were 890 (Monday), 731 (Tuesday), 707 (Wednesday), 696 (Thursday) and 558 (Friday).

'It shows that the joint prevention and control mechanism incorporating different regions in the country, as well as strict management, are taking effect,' Mi said.

As per the data released by the commission, the confirmed cases in Hubei showed a drop perhaps for the first time since the virulent virus emerged in the province in December.

On Saturday, Hubei reported 2,147 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus infection, the commission said. The figure is 694 less compared with the new confirmed cases reported in the previous day, it said.

Hubei's capital Wuhan reported 1,379 new infections and 63 new deaths, and the cities of Xiaogan and Huanggang reported 123 and 100 new confirmed cases, respectively, according to the provincial health commission.

On Saturday, an American woman and a Japanese man became the first foreigners to have died from the new coronavirus in China.

The only fatalities outside the mainland have been a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China while major airlines have suspended flights.

So far 316 cases have been reported from about 26 countries including India where three people in Kerala who returned from Wuhan contracted the virus. China has allocated a total of 71.85 billion yuan (about USD 10.3 billion) of fiscal funds to support the control of the coronavirus outbreak, Finance Minister Liu Kun said on Sunday.

As of Saturday, 31.55 billion yuan (about 4.5 USD billion) of the funds were spent, the finance minister said at a national tele-conference.

The central fiscal authorities will continue to roll out favourable policies to support epidemic control, Liu was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday that the UN health agency will send an international mission to China as it received a response from Beijing.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the team leader will leave early next week with the rest of the experts to follow.

The UN health agency said the number of cases of the coronavirus in China is 'stabilising', which is a 'good news'.

It, however, cautioned that it was too early to make any predictions about whether the virus might have peaked.

'There has been a stabilisation in the number of cases reported from Hubei,' Michael Ryan, head of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme said at a briefing in Geneva.

'We're in a four-day stable period where the number of reported cases hasn't advanced. That's good news and may reflect the impact of the control measures that have been put in place,' Ryan was quoted as saying.

But he added that it was 'very early to make any predictions'.

The WHO officials have said that less than two per cent of those affected by coronavirus have died. An initial analysis of 17,000 coronavirus infections in mainland China shows that 82 per cent of the cases are classified as mild and 15 per cent as severe, and that three per cent of patients have developed critical symptoms, Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the WHO told the media on Friday in Geneva.

As per the data obtained from Chinese authorities showed that “two per cent or less than two per cent” of reported cases have resulted in deaths, she said.

“We know that individuals who are at an advanced age are at a higher likelihood of dying, we know that underlying conditions … make people more at risk,” Kerkhove said.

Chinese official media has accused the world of overreaction to coronavirus with travel bans and flight cancellations.

“The number of people infected outside of China is less than one percent the number in China. But that hard-earned result is nothing in the eyes of some, who always have an axe to grind when it comes to China,' an editorial in state-run China Daily on Sunday said.

“Although the death rate dropped from 2.1 per cent to below 2 per cent late last week, after the growth in the number of people infected outside of Hubei province, the centre of the epidemic, decelerated five days in a row, the continuing epidemic has simply provided them with fresh ammunition with which to target China,' it said. PTI KJV ZH PMS PMS