Saturday, February 22, 2020

Coronavirus: Number of new cases drop in China as death toll passes 2,000

Another 397 new coronavirus cases were reported in China, down from nearly 900 reported in Friday

This photo taken on February 20, 2020, shows community staff members delivering foods to residents in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. Photo: AFP

The death toll in China from the new coronavirus outbreak rose by 109, the National Health Commission said Saturday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,345.

Another 397 new cases were reported nationwide, down from nearly 900 officially reported Friday, bringing the total number of cases to over 76,000.

The drop in new cases of the novel coronavirus came as officials in Hubei province — whose capital city Wuhan is the epicentre the outbreak — were ordered to revise figures to clear "doubt" around the data.

The number of new cases nationwide for February 19 was revised up to 820 up from 394 previously reported, the National Health Commission said Saturday.

It also adjusted upwards the total confirmed cases for February 20 by over 400 cases to 75,891.

The decision to amend Hubei's past data, which was announced on Friday by local authorities, is the latest in a string of changes made to Hubei's counting method — further complicating efforts to track the spread of the illness.

Read also: Hundreds of people in Chinese prisons infected with coronavirus

Last week, Chinese health officials added patients from Hubei who had been diagnosed via clinical methods including lung imaging on top of those confirmed by lab tests.

But on Thursday, Hubei officials backtracked the decision and deducted 279 cases — which they were ordered to re-add to the count on Friday.

Rise in foreign cases

Fears mounted Saturday over the rise of new cases and fatalities outside China from the new coronavirus outbreak, as the World Health Organisation warned of a shrinking window to stem the spread of the deadly disease.

The warning came as the first European died from the new COVID-19 strain, which first emerged in December in central China but has now spread to over 25 countries and caused over a dozen deaths outside the country.

A 78-year old Italian from the Veneto region died in the hospital after testing positive for the virus.

Italy has locked down ten towns and asked over 50,000 people to stay home amid a flurry of cases in the area — a move with echoes of China's lockdown of entire cities in Hubei province at the centre of the outbreak.

In China, the number of cases outside Hubei, where millions remain under effective quarantine, has been generally declining, although new hotspots were found in several prisons and hospitals Friday.

Read also: Spike in spread of coronavirus in China and abroad rekindle concerns

But just 31 new cases were reported outside the central province Saturday, as the national number of cases rose past 76,000.

Concerns have also risen about the reliability of the official data, however, after Hubei officials changed methods of counting cases and amended their figures again.

A WHO-led team of experts are set to visit Wuhan, the capital of the province, on Saturday.

Meanwhile WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the "window of opportunity" to contain the international spread of the outbreak was "narrowing", as cases surged across the Middle East and in South Korea.

He warned that if countries did not quickly mobilise to fight the spread of the virus, "this outbreak could go in any direction. It could even be messy."

International spread 

Cases of the deadly virus were reported in a range of countries in the Middle East on Friday, including the first cases in Israel and Lebanon.

Iran said four people there had died and 18 been infected from the outbreak.

Nearly 350 people have been infected in South Korea, including two deaths, making it the hardest-hit country outside China.

The US advised citizens to avoid travelling by cruise liner in Asia because it said the vessels acted as amplifiers of the virus.

Several Australians and an Israeli evacuated earlier this week from the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus on returning to their home countries.

Read also: Asia-Pacific airlines may lose $27.8 billion as coronavirus impact deepens

They were previously cleared in Japan.

The cases will fuel questions about Tokyo´s policy of allowing former passengers to return home after testing negative.

Two former passengers, both Japanese and in their 80s, died in Japan on Thursday.

The British government confirmed on Twitter that an evacuation flight had left Japan on Saturday with 32 British and European passengers on board, as well as British government and medical staff.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic organisers on Saturday postponed training for their army of volunteers due to the coronavirus outbreak, but said that there was "no consideration" of cancelling the Games.