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China's virus death toll tops SARS; new cases fall

Associated Press • Feb 9, 2020 at 9:16 AM

BEIJING — China’s virus death toll rose by 89 on Sunday to 811, passing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, but fewer new cases were reported in a possible sign its spread may be slowing as other nations stepped up efforts to block the disease.

Some 2,656 new virus cases were reported in the 24 hours ending at midnight Saturday, most of them in the central province of Hubei, where the first patients fell sick in December. That was down by about 20% from the 3,399 new cases reported in the previous 24-hour period.

“That means the joint control mechanism of different regions and the strict prevention and control measures have worked,” a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said at a news conference.

Also Sunday, new cases were reported in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Spain.

More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China.

“Dramatic reductions” in the spread should begin this month if containment works, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. He assisted the World Health Organization and Chinese authorities during the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Warmer weather will reduce the virus’s ability to spread and bring people out of enclosed spaces where it is transmitted more easily, Lipkin said in an online news conference. However, he said, if new cases spike as people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, then “we’ll know we’re in trouble.”

The fatality toll passed the 774 people believed to have died of SARS, another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 37,198 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.

HONG KONG RELEASES QUARANTINED CRUISE SHIP

The 1,800 passengers and 1,800 crew members of the cruise ship Dream World were released from quarantine after Hong Kong authorities said tests of the crew found no infections.

The ship was isolated after eight mainland Chinese passengers were diagnosed with the disease last month.

Port official Leung Yiu-hon said some passengers with symptoms tested negative but there was no need to test all of them because they had no contact with the infected Chinese passengers.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong began enforcing a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from mainland China. The territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has refused demands by some hospital workers and others to seal the border completely.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SENDING EXPERTS

The WHO director-general said it will send experts to China starting Monday or Tuesday.

Asked whether that will include members of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus replied, “We hope so.”