CORONAVIRUS | The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in mainland China reached 1,113 as of the end of Tuesday, up by 97 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said on Wednesday, with new infections falling to their lowest since January.
Across mainland China, there were 2,015 new confirmed infections on Tuesday, the lowest since Jan 30 when there were 1,982 new confirmed cases.
China last week amended its guidelines on prevention and control of the coronavirus, saying that only when asymptomatic cases show clinical signs should they be recorded as a confirmed case.
However, it is not clear if the government data previously included asymptomatic cases.
The total accumulated number of cases on the mainland has reached 44,653, the data released on Wednesday showed.
The central Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 94 deaths, with 72 of them in its provincial capital of Wuhan.
Aside from the deaths in mainland China, one patient succumbed in Hong Kong while another passed away in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, China's senior medical adviser Zhong Nanshan yesterday said the coronavirus outbreak in the country may be over by April.
He said numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecasts the epidemic would peak this month.
"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April," Zhong (below), an epidemiologist who played a role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, told Reuters.
World stocks, which had seen rounds of sell-offs over the coronavirus' impact on China's economy and its ripple effects, surged to record highs on Zhong's comments. The Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit new peaks.
Even if the epidemic ends soon, it has already taken a toll on China's economy, as companies began laying off workers and other firms said they would need loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat.
Supply chains for car manufacturers to smartphone makers have broken down.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in China have now surpassed 44,000, according to the WHO and Chinese health officials.
Statistics from China indicate about two percent of people infected with the new virus have died, many of them elderly or with prior medical conditions. But the spread of the virus, which can lead to pneumonia, has already caused widespread disruption.
St Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard said China's economy was expected to "slow noticeably" in the first quarter and anyone pricing assets should for now consider the "tail risk" that the outbreak could get worse.
But Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the financial spillover from the outbreak looked containable, though it was still early to judge the economic impact.
'Worst enemy you can imagine'
The WHO's Tedros was less sanguine about the virus, now officially named Covid-19 - CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged.
World health organisations wanted a name that did not refer to a location or animal.
"To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, social and economic upheaval than any terrorist attack," he said. "It's the worst enemy you can imagine."
The impact of travel curbs, lockdowns and production suspensions is being felt increasingly on China's economy.
JP Morgan analysts downgraded forecasts for Chinese growth this quarter and Norwegian energy consultancy Rystad Energy predicted the outbreak would cut growth in global oil demand by a quarter this year.
Cisco Systems Inc, Facebook Inc, AT&T and Sprint Corp became the latest US technology companies to pull out of an international telecommunications conference in Barcelona because of the outbreak.
The organiser of the event, the telecommunication industry's biggest annual gathering, will discuss whether to cancel it, an industry source said.
Inside China, more than 300 companies are seeking bank loans totalling 57.4 billion yuan (US$8.2 billion) to help cope with the disruption, banking sources said.
Prospective borrowers include food delivery giant Meituan Dianping, smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp and ride-hailing provider Didi Chuxing Technology Co.
Chinese firm Xinchao Media said on Monday it had laid off 500 people, or just over a tenth of its workforce, and restaurant chain Xibei said it was worried about how to pay its roughly 20,000 workers.
Cruise ships quarantined
Hubei, where the flu-like virus emerged in China from a wildlife market in the provincial capital of Wuhan, remains in virtual lockdown, its stations and airports shut and roads blocked.
With public anger rising, Hubei's government dismissed the provincial health commission's Communist Party boss Zhang Jin and director Liu Yingzi, state media said.
Washington, whose travel restrictions have offended Beijing, authorised the voluntary departure of US government employees and family members from Chinese-ruled Hong Kong "out of an abundance of caution," the State Department said.
Dr Anne Schuchat, an official from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said she hoped the first group of Americans evacuated from Wuhan could be released from their quarantine on Tuesday.
Off Japan's port of Yokohama, the Diamond Princess cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew remained quarantined, with the number of confirmed cases at 135 - the largest single cluster of cases outside China.
Thailand said it had barred passengers from getting off another ship, Holland America Line's MS Westerdam, though no confirmed infections have been found on board.
Graphic on comparing new coronavirus to Sars and Mers
Graphic on the new coronavirus