Coronavirus death toll in mainland China rises to 1,665

Pablo Tucker
February 17, 2020

Chinese health officials on Sunday said two days of falls in the number of new confirmed cases showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit.

The said almost 90 percent of the new cases were in the provincial capital of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. With more than 400 people infected, the majority passengers on a cruise ship docked off the country, Japan is the country most affected by the epidemic after China, where the outbreak was first detected in December.

The man, a 61-year-old taxi driver, was living with diabetes and hepatitis B when he died of the virus, according to Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung.

The new figures as of Sunday have brought the total to 70,548 cases and 1,770 deaths.

Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said that a community surveillance program was launched yesterday, allowing three types of people to be tested for COVID-19.

It had been thought that any blame for the delay in response was contained to Hubei itself, and that central authorities were as in the dark as the worldwide community until late January, when Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped in himself, ordering "all out efforts" to rein in the virus' spread.

"The situation surrounding this virus is changing by the minute", Abe said.

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the country is "entering into a phase that is different from before", requiring new steps to stop the spread of the virus.

Hundreds of Americans from the cruise ship took charter flights home, and Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights. Most of his passengers were Taiwanese businesspeople who returned to the island after visiting China, Macau, and Hong Kong.

Japan now has more than 500 confirmed cases, including 454 from a quarantined cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, and one death from the virus.

The disclosure indicates top leaders were aware of the outbreak's potential severity well before such dangers were made known to the public.

"The Japanese government have informed us that they may start a new testing process for guests beginning February 18", Princess Cruises President Jan Swartz said in a statement.

Zhang Lifan, a commentator in Beijing, said it's not clear why the speech was published now.

To avoid more infections, the Hubei authorities have strengthened the province's isolation measures from the rest of the country.

During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic in 2002 and 2003, a significant proportion of healthcare workers in mainland China also succumbed to the virus with about 20 percent of them contracting SARS.

Under the new restrictions imposed on Sunday, vehicles, apart from essential services, are banned from the roads in Hubei.

Exceptions will be made for vehicles involved in epidemic prevention and transporting daily necessities.

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.

About 137 of the 145 passengers on the chartered flight had already left for other countries as of Sunday after showing no signs of illness, Malaysian authorities said.

The US Embassy said the departure was offered because people on the ship were at a high risk of exposure to the virus.

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