China COVID-19 death toll exceeds 1,600 as new cases drop for third consecutive day

The death toll jumped to 1,665 in mainland China on Sunday (Feb 16) as the number of new cases dropped for a third consecutive day.
February 16, 2020 | 13:21
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A worker wearing a protective suit gestures to a driver outside a tumour hospital newly designated to treat COVID-19 patients in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province on Feb 15, 2020. (Photo: Chinatopix via AP)

Global concern remains high about the spread of the virus, which first emerged in China's central Hubei province in December, with the first death outside Asia reported in France this weekend.

The death toll jumped to 1,665 in mainland China after 142 more people died from the virus. More than 68,000 people have now been infected - but the number of new cases of the COVID-19 strain continued to decline.

In Hubei, the number of new cases slowed for a third consecutive day and at 139, the number of deaths was level with Saturday's toll.

The number of new cases in other parts of the country has dropped for twelve straight days.

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned however that it was "impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take".

"We ask all governments, companies, and news organisations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria," he said, speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

"China has bought the world time. We don't know how much time."

An international team of WHO experts will arrive in Beijing this weekend for a joint mission with Chinese counterparts.

The scale of the epidemic ballooned on Thursday after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding thousands of new patients to their tally.

Hubei added more than 14,000 cases in a single day after officials there started counting people clinically diagnosed through lung imaging, in addition to those with a positive lab test result.

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.

Local authorities around the country have introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading.

Beijing's municipal government has enacted a rule requiring all people coming to the capital to quarantine themselves for 14 days, warning that violators would be punished, according to official media.

Outside mainland China, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist in France was the fourth person to die from the new coronavirus, with the other deaths in the Philippines, Hong Kong (China) and Japan.

The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan, with 335 infections now as dozens more cases were confirmed.

A US State Department spokesperson said Americans stranded on the vessel would be evacuated, and would face a further quarantine of two weeks in the United States.

Hong Kong authorities also announced it would charter a flight for city residents on the ship, who would stay at a quarantine centre for 14 days on their return.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services to the country.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for tighter policing to protect social stability.

The government must "increase use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police", to ensure stability during the crisis, Xi said in a February 3 speech published by state media on Saturday.

China's central bank said it will also disinfect banknotes with ultraviolet light or high temperatures and store them for up to 14 days before they are put back into circulation./.

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