China virus deaths rise past 800, overtaking SARS toll

BEIJING (AFP) – The death toll from the novel coronavirus surged past 800 in mainland China yesterday, overtaking global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, even as the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak appeared to be stabilising.

With 89 more people dying – most in Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak – the toll is now higher than the 774 killed worldwide by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to official figures. The latest data came after the WHO said the last four days had seen “some stabilising” in Hubei, but warned the figures can still “shoot up”.

Almost 37,200 people in China have now been infected by the virus, believed to have emerged late last year in Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where residents are struggling to get daily supplies because of sweeping transport restrictions and instructions to stay inside.

The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down whole cities as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis – especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.

With much of the country still not back at work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, cities including financial hub Shanghai ordered residents to wear masks in public.

Head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan said the “stable period” of the outbreak “may reflect the impact of the control measures.”

While the death toll has climbed steadily, new cases have declined since Wednesday’s single-day peak of nearly 3,900 people nationwide.

Yesterday, the number of new cases was just over 2,600. Millions of people are under lockdown in Hubei in a bid to stop the virus spreading.