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China coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,700; global experts gather in China

12:12 | 17/02/2020

The death toll from China's new coronavirus epidemic jumped to 1,770 after 105 more people died, the National Health Commission said on Monday (Feb 17). The World Health Organization warned the epidemic’s future path is "impossible" to predict.

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A medical worker is seen at the intensive care unit (ICU) of Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China February 13, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

More than 70,500 have now been infected nationwide by the virus, which first emerged in December in central Hubei province before spreading across the country.

Chinese authorities have placed about 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

New cases outside of the epicentre have been declining for the last 13 days.

There were 115 fresh cases outside the central province, according to the commission on Monday - sharply down from nearly 450 a week ago.

Local authorities elsewhere in China have introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading, including a rule in Beijing requiring people coming to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to official media.

Most cases are still in Hubei, where nearly 2,000 were reported on Monday.

The number of reported infections ballooned on Thursday last week after Hubei authorities changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding 14,000 cases in a single day.

Monday's figures for new cases were around 100 higher than those on Sunday but still sharply down on those from Friday and Saturday.

Mi Feng, National Health Commission spokesman, said on Sunday that the figures were a sign that China was controlling the outbreak.

"The effects of epidemic prevention and control in various parts of the country can already be seen," he told reporters.

However, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned it is "impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take".

"International experts participating in the @WHO-led joint mission with (China) have arrived in Beijing & have had their first meeting with Chinese counterparts today," Tedros said on Twitter.

"We look forward to this vitally important collaboration contributing to global knowledge about the #COVID19 outbreak."

Local authorities elsewhere in China have also introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading.

Beijing's municipal government has enacted a rule requiring people coming to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to official media.

Outside mainland China, Taipei officials reported the island's first death from the new coronavirus on Sunday, as a 61-year-old man from central Taiwan with underlying health problems but no recent overseas travel history died in hospital.

He is the fifth person outside of the mainland to die from the virus, with the other deaths in the Philippines, Hong Kong (China), Japan and France.

The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship outside Japan with 356 infections confirmed, including a quarantine officer.

A top US health official on Sunday said 40 Americans from the ship have become infected and would be treated in Japan.

Other Americans left the Diamond Princess into the early hours of Monday for chartered jets that would fly them home - and into further quarantine.

Malaysia on Sunday said it would not allow any cruise ships departing or transiting Chinese ports to enter the country, following the discovery of a US citizen with the coronavirus./.

VNF/CNA/AFP