China's coronavirus deaths surpass SARS as millions stagger back to work

China's coronavirus deaths surpass SARS as millions stagger back to work

People wearing protective masks are seen at a super market in Shanghai
People wearing protective masks are seen at a super market in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, Feb 7, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song)

BEIJING: The number of confirmed infections in China's coronavirus outbreak has reached 37,198 nationwide with more than 2,600 new cases reported, the National Health Commission said on Sunday (Feb 9).

In its daily update, the commission said there had been 89 new deaths from the virus - with 81 in hardest-hit Hubei province, and the rest in other regions - bringing the national toll to 811.

The death toll is now higher than the global number of deaths caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed 774 people in 2002-2003.

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Authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January as the rising numbers of dead and infected cast a pall over the country.

Many of China's usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and shut schools.

The sight of an economy regarded as a workshop to the world laid so low has taken a toll on international financial markets, as shares slumped and investors switched into safe-havens like gold, bonds and the Japanese yen.

Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces and schools will remain closed and many white-collar employees will work from home.

China has blocked a plan by Apple supplier Foxconn Technology to resume production in China from Monday, the Nikkei business daily reported.

Gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd said on Sunday it had asked staff to continue working from home until Feb 21.

Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, will keep schools shut until Mar 1, the People's Daily newspaper said. Several provinces have shut schools until the end of February.

NEW DEATHS, DISMAY, MISTRUST

An American hospitalised in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province, where the outbreak began, became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease. The Washington Post identified him as Hong Ling, a 53-year old geneticist who studied rare diseases at Berkeley. A Japanese man who also died in Wuhan was another suspected victim.

READ: Novel coronavirus case numbers 'stabilising' in China: WHO

READ: Head of WHO-led coronavirus probe team leaving for China

As millions of Chinese prepared to go back to work, the public dismay and mistrust of official numbers was evident on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

"What's even more frustrating is that these are only the 'official' data," said one user.

"Don't say anything else. We all know we can't purchase masks anywhere, why are we still going back to work?" said a second.

"More than 20,000 doctors and nurses around the country have been sent to Hubei, but why are the numbers still rising?" asked a third.

UNREPORTED CASES

Among the latest deaths, 81 were in Hubei, where the virus has infected most people by far. New deaths in Wuhan, Hubei's capital, saw a rare decline.

New infection cases on Saturday recorded the first drop since Feb 1, falling back below 3,000 to 2,656 cases. Of those, 2,147 cases were in Hubei.

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 37,198, commission data showed.

Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, said it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking.

"Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don't know what is happening with unreported cases," he said. "This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas."

READ: Novel coronavirus kills Chinese doctor who first warned of it

The virus has spread to 27 countries and regions, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China - in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Both victims were Chinese nationals.

ALARM IN EUROPE, UNITED STATES AND ASIA

Major cities and capitals announced new travel restrictions as concern over the spread of the virus increased.

Hong Kong introduced a two-week quarantine on Saturday for all people arriving from the mainland, or who have been there during the previous 14 days. Malaysia expanded its ban on visitors from China.

France issued a new travel advisory for its citizens, saying it did not recommend travelling to China unless there was an "imperative" reason. Italy asked children travelling from China to stay away from school for two weeks voluntarily.

The latest patients outside China include five British nationals staying in the same chalet at a ski village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said, raising fears of further infections at a busy period in the ski season.

Britain's final evacuation flight from Wuhan, landed at a Royal Air Force base in central England on Sunday with 200 people on board and a plane with 266 evacuees landed on Sunday in Darwin, Australia, SBS broadcaster said.

Singapore also organised a second evacuation flight for 174 Singaporeans and their family members in Wuhan.

READ: Coronavirus outbreak: Singapore raises DORSCON level to Orange; schools to suspend inter-school, external activities

The country has reported 40 cases of coronavirus, putting it among the hardest hit countries, along with Japan, outside of China.

On Sunday, Singapore's central bank advised financial institutions to step up precautions for staff, after the Government raised its response to the virus on Friday to Orange.

Organisers of the Singapore Airshow 2020 expect this week's event to draw less than half the crowd seen on public days at the last show in 2018.

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Source: Agencies/nh

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