BEIJING: The number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus outbreak spiked to 426 in China, after authorities in Hubei province reported 64 new fatalities and Hong Kong reported its first fatality on Tuesday (Feb 4).
In its daily update, figures from the health commission in Hubei, which has been hit hardest by the virus, also showed a sharp increase in confirmed infections with 3,235 new cases.
That puts the national total at more than 20,400, based on numbers previously issued by the central government.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency, although experts say much is still unknown about the pathogen including its lethality.
"We expect to see more cases of person-to-person spread," said Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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The epidemic is believed to have emerged in December from a market that sold wild game in the Hubei provincial capital Wuhan.
At least 151 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, the United States and Britain.
There has been one death outside China, in the Philippines.
With Wuhan and some other cities in virtual lockdown, travel severely restricted and China facing increasing international isolation, fears of wider economic disruption are growing; sources at the OPEC oil cartel said producers were considering cutting output by almost a third to support prices.
Airlines around the world have stopped flights to parts of China. A suspension by the United Arab Emirates on Monday will affect the Gulf airlines Etihad and Emirates.
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The outbreak is reminiscent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus from the same family that emerged in China in 2002 and killed almost 800 people around the world out of the 8,000 or so who were infected.
Chinese data suggest that the new virus, while much more contagious than SARS, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
Some economists predict world economic output will be cut by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points due to China's lockdown.
Countries continued to fly evacuation flights for citizens out of Wuhan. A planeload of Australians left the city on Monday and arrived in the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, where they will be quarantined, media reported on Tuesday.
The United States, which flew people out last week, is planning "a handful more flights" while Russia was due to start evacuating its citizens from Wuhan on Monday.
The White House said China had accepted its offer to have US experts as part of a WHO mission to study and help combat the virus.