Death toll in China COVID-19 epidemic surges past 1,500

Death toll in China COVID-19 epidemic surges past 1,500

People wearing protective facemasks queue for food in Shanghai
People wearing protective facemasks queue for food in Shanghai AFP/NOEL CELIS

BEIJING: The death toll from China's new coronavirus epidemic surged past 1,500 on Saturday (Feb 15) after 139 more people died in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The province's health commission also reported 2,641 new cases of the COVID-19 strain, about half the number from the previous day.

At least 1,523 people have now died from the outbreak that first emerged in Hubei's capital, Wuhan, in December and snowballed into a nationwide epidemic a month later.

More than 66,000 people have now been infected, with most deaths occurring in Hubei.

READ: Commentary - How much damage will COVID-19 inflict on China's economy?

National Health Commission official Liang Wannian told a news conference the government would continue to try to contain the spread of virus in Wuhan, which has been under virtual lockdown for three weeks.

The number of deaths in Hubei rose by 139 as of Friday, 107 of those in Wuhan. A total of 1,123 people in Wuhan have now died from the coronavirus.

The virus has claimed more than 1,500 lives and infected some 66,000 people in China
The virus has claimed more than 1,500 lives and infected some 66,000 people in China. (Photo: AFP/STR) 


China is struggling to get the world's second-largest economy going after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended by 10 days to help contain the virus.

The scale of the epidemic swelled this week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to their tally.

Cases "clinically diagnosed" through lung imaging are now counted in addition to those that have shown up positive in laboratory tests.

The revision added nearly 15,000 patients to Hubei's tally on Thursday, with the World Health Organization noting that cases going back weeks were retroactively counted. There were more than 4,800 cases reported in Hubei on Friday.

Authorities said 1,716 medical workers have been infected during the outbreak, with six dying from the illness.

Most of the infections among health workers were in Hubei's capital, Wuhan, where many have lacked proper masks and gear to protect themselves in hospitals dealing with a deluge of patients.

The grim figures come a week after grief and public anger erupted over the death of a whistleblowing doctor who had been reprimanded and silenced by police in Wuhan after raising the alarm about the virus in December.

Wuhan Hubei virus
People dressed in protective clothes disinfect an area in Wuhan, in Hubei province on Jan 30, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal) 

China is struggling to get the world's second-largest economy going after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended by 10 days to help contain the virus.

China would maintain a prudent monetary policy and help companies resume production as soon as possible, the vice governor of the central bank told a news conference.

The official Beijing Daily newspaper said people failing to obey government orders to quarantine themselves on return from the holidays would be punished. But it was not immediately clear how that would be enforced, or whether the restrictions would apply to non-residents or foreigners arriving from abroad.

"From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving," Beijing's virus prevention working group said in a notice cited by the Beijing Daily.

"Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under the law," it said.

The WHO has cautioned that it was "way too early" to make any predictions about the disease's trajectory.

An international team of WHO experts will arrive in Beijing this weekend for a joint mission with Chinese counterparts.

The joint team will inspect three provinces and cities to review the prevention and control measures, visit research centres, and make recommendations for containing the epidemic, according to National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng.

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Source: Agencies

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