China virus death toll passes 1,000 as WHO warns of ‘bigger fire’

BEIJING (AFP) – The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surged past 1,000 yesterday as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that infected people who have not travelled to China could ignite a “bigger fire” in the epidemic.

The rise came after President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to a hospital in Beijing, wearing protective gear as he chatted with medical workers and patients.

An advance team for a WHO-led international mission arrived in China as the country struggles to contain a viral epidemic that has now infected more than 42,000 and reached some 25 countries.

Another 108 deaths were reported yesterday – the first triple-digit daily rise since the virus emerged in late December.

The first death was reported on January 11, but the toll has increased a thousandfold in just a month, reaching 1,016, although the mortality rate remains relatively low at 2.4 per cent.

Chinese authorities have locked down millions of people in a number of cities, while several governments have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have suspended flights in a bid to keep the disease away from their shores.

But the case of a British man who passed on the virus to at least 11 other people – without having been in China – has raised fears of a new phase of contagion abroad.

Most cases overseas have involved people who had been in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city where the virus emerged late last year, or people infected by others who had been at the epicentre.

But the Briton caught the virus while attending a conference in Singapore and then passed it on to several compatriots while on holiday in the French Alps, before finally being diagnosed back in Britain.

People wearing protective masks shopping at a supermarket in Shenyang in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. PHOTO: AFP