BEIJING, China (AFP) — Despite a progressive increase in the death toll from the novel coronavirus (nCoV) which surged past 800 in mainland China on Sunday, health experts under the World Health Organization (WHO) have noted a trend that may indicate that the crisis had started to stabilize.
The number of nCoV deaths overtook global fatalities in the 2002 to 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, however, said the “stable period” of the outbreak “may reflect the impact of the control measures that have been put in place.”
While the death toll has climbed steadily, new cases per day have declined since Wednesday’s single-day peak of nearly 3,900 new cases nationwide.
On Sunday, the number of new cases was just over 2,600 people.
Another beacon of hope was a Xinhua report indicating that Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke over the phone with US President Donald Trump to tackle the epidemic.
Noting that China’s efforts are gradually yielding positive results, Xi stressed that China has full confidence and capability to prevail over the epidemic and that the trend of the Chinese economy maintaining long-term growth will not change.
With an open, transparent and responsible attitude, China has kept the WHO as well as relevant countries and regions, including the United States, posted on the epidemic, and invited WHO and other experts to conduct field visits in Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicenter of the outbreak, the Chinese leader said.
US to send experts
For his part, Trump said the United States fully supports China’s fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic and is willing to send experts to China and offer assistance in various other forms.
He said the fact that China completed building special hospitals for novel coronavirus patients in an incredibly short time is impressive, and shows China’s outstanding organizational and response capabilities.
The US president said he is confident that under Xi’s leadership, the Chinese people will undoubtedly win the battle against the outbreak.
The United States has confidence in China’s economic growth, he said, adding that Washington will calmly look at and respond to the epidemic and is willing to maintain communication and cooperation with China through bilateral and WHO channels.
Recalling that China and the United States signed the phase-one economic and trade agreement not long ago, Xi stressed that it is good for China, for the United States and for world peace and prosperity that the two countries reached such a deal.
With 89 more people dying, most in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, the toll is now higher than the 774 killed worldwide by SARS, according to figures from national health authorities.
The latest data came after the WHO said the last four days had seen “some stabilizing” in Hubei but warned the figures can still “shoot up.”
Almost 37,200 people in China have now been infected by nCoV, 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 have ordered residents to wear masks in public.
Many regions far from Hubei are allowing only one person per household to go out every two days to buy supplies.
Millions of people remain under lockdown in Hubei, in a bid to stop the virus spread.
“The local government asked people to stay at home as much as possible, but there’s not enough goods in shops each time we get there, so we have to go out frequently,” said a woman surnamed Wei whose husband was infected.
Melissa Santos, a student from the Dominican Republic living in Wuhan, said she planned to go out Sunday for the first time in a week to buy food.
“I am a bit worried,” she told AFP. “I have read that the virus can be transmitted very fast, in a few seconds.”
The only fatalities outside the mainland have been a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.
Governments have hardened their defenses, with several countries banning arrivals from China while major airlines have suspended flights.