BEIJING: The number of deaths from China's new coronavirus epidemic jumped to 722 on Saturday (Feb 8), surpassing the toll from the SARS outbreak on the mainland and Hong Kong almost two decades ago.
Another 86 people died from the virus, according to the national health commission, with all but five in hard-hit Hubei province, where the disease emerged in December.
The toll is now higher than that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in mainland China and Hong Kong, where nearly 650 people died in 2002-2003.
However, the global toll for SARS, a disease in the same family as the new coronavirus, remains higher at more than 770 deaths.
In its daily update, the health commission also confirmed another 3,399 new cases. There are now more than 34,500 confirmed infections across the country.
China has struggled to contain the current virus despite having placed around 56 million people under effective lockdown in Hubei and its provincial capital, Wuhan.
Other cities far from the epicentre have also taken measures to keep people indoors, limiting the number of individuals who can leave their home.
Friday's death of a 34-year-old Wuhan doctor who was punished for raising the alarm about the virus in December sparked an outpouring of grief and anger over the government's handling of the crisis.
The virus has spread to two dozen countries, prompting several governments to ban arrivals from China and urge their citizens to avoid travelling to the country. Some have recommended their citizens leave China.
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Major airlines have suspended flights to and from China.
At least 61 people on board a cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the new coronavirus, with thousands of passengers and crew facing a two-week quarantine.
The contagion emerged in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan in December, later spreading to the rest of China and more than two dozen other countries, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.
The number of confirmed infections in China could still grow significantly, with the health commission saying that more than 26,000 other people were "suspected" of having contracted the virus.