WHO urges calm as China virus death toll reaches 2,000
The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surged to 2,000 on Wednesday, as Chinese and international health officials warned against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.
More than 74,000 people have now been infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in some 25 countries.
The situation remains serious at the epicentre, with the director of a hospital in the central city of Wuhan becoming the seventh medical worker to succumb to the COVID-19 illness.
But Chinese officials released a study showing most patients have mild cases of the infection, and World Health Organization officials said the mortality rate was relatively low.
The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralysed by vast quarantine measures and major firms such as iPhone maker Apple and mining giant BHP warning it could damage bottom lines.
Several countries have banned travellers from China and major airlines have suspended flights — something that Beijing’s ambassador to the EU warned was fuelling panic and threatening attempts to resume business.
Russia on Tuesday said no Chinese citizens would be allowed to enter its territory from February 20.
The epidemic has triggered panic-buying in Singapore and Hong Kong, concerns about cruise-ship travel and the postponement of trade fairs, sports competitions and cultural events in China and abroad.
Authorities have placed about 56 million people in hard-hit central Hubei and its capital Wuhan under an unprecedented lockdown.
The city was carrying out “very good public health practice” with door-to-door surveillance, said Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme.
Other cities far from the epicentre have restricted the movement of residents, with a 14-day self-quarantine for people returning to Beijing.
President Xi Jinping, in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said China’s measures were achieving “visible progress”, according to state media.
– ‘Less deadly’ than SARS –
The official death toll in China hit 2,000 after another 132 people died in Hubei, where the virus emerged in December.
Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, became its latest victim, sparking an outpouring of grief online.
Earlier this month, the death of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang — who had been punished by authorities for sounding the alarm about the virus in late December — triggered anger and calls on social media for political reform.