China sees drop in new virus cases, but more deaths abroad

BEIJING (AFP) – China yesterday touted a big drop in new virus cases as proof of its epidemic control efforts, but the toll grew abroad with deaths in Japan, South Korea and Iran.

The death tally in China hit 2,118 as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases there in nearly a month, including the hardest-hit Hubei province.

Over 74,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus in China and hundreds more in over 25 countries.

The number of deaths outside mainland China climbed to 11.

Japan’s toll rose to three as a man and a woman in their 80s who had been aboard a quarantined cruise ship died, while fears there mounted about other passengers who disembarked the Diamond Princess after testing negative.

Medical staff wear facemasks to protect against the COVID-19 as they chat outside a hospital in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

South Korea reported its first death and the number of infections nearly doubled to 104.

The mayor of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, advised residents to stay indoors, and commanders at a major United States (US) base in the area restricted access.

Iran reported two deaths on Wednesday, the first fatalities in the Middle East. Deaths have previously been confirmed in France, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Chinese officials said their drastic containment efforts, including quarantining tens of millions of people in Hubei and restricting movements in cities nationwide, have started to pay off.

“Results show that our control efforts are working,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a special meeting on the virus with Southeast Asian counterparts in Laos, citing the latest data.

Wang said the situation was “significantly improving” in Hubei and Wuhan, but an official in a central government team dealing with the epidemic said it was still “very severe”.

Over 600 new infections were reported in Hubei’s capital Wuhan – the lowest daily tally since late January and well down from the 1,749 new cases the day before.

The national figure has now fallen for three straight days.

Chinese authorities placed Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, under quarantine on January 23 and quickly locked down the rest of Hubei in the days that followed. City authorities this week carried out a three-day, door-to-door search for suspected patients, with the local Communist Party chief warning that officials would be “held accountable” if any infections were missed.

Cities far from the epicentre have limited the number of people who can leave their houses for groceries, while villages have sealed themselves off from outsiders.

World Health Organization official Richard Brennan said in Cairo that China was making “tremendous progress” and “trends are very encouraging but we are not at a turning point yet”.