The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in China yesterday climbed to 1,113, but the number of new cases fell for a second straight day, raising hope that the outbreak could peak later this month.
Ninety-seven more deaths were reported, bringing the total number of people infected by COVID-19 in mainland China to 44,653.
Two people have died elsewhere, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
Most of the deaths and a majority of cases have been in central Hubei Province, whose capital, Wuhan, is the epicenter of the outbreak. About 56 million have been placed under lockdown in the province.
The epidemic has threatened to harm the world’s second-largest economy, with ANZ bank warning that China’s first-quarter GDP growth would slow to between 3.2 and 4 percent, down from a previous projection of 5 percent.
Yet in a positive development, the number of new cases has fallen in Hubei for two straight days, according to figures from the Chinese National Health Commission.
Outside the province, the number of new patients has declined for the past week.
“In general, the number of new cases is now slowly decreasing,” Zhong Nanshan (鍾南山), a scientist at the commission, said in a video conference with medical staff in Wuhan on Tuesday.
“When does the turning point occur? I can’t say, but I think it’s at its peak in mid to late-February,” he said.
However, Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was more circumspect.
“I think we’ve just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions,” Murphy told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
In Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO is hosting a two-day international conference on combating the virus, during which it decided to name it COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We are not defenseless. If we invest now ... we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak.”
In addition to locking down Hubei, Chinese authorities have restricted movements in several other cities far from the epicenter.
Authorities have found a cluster in the northern port city of Tianjin, just southeast of Beijing, which has been traced to a department store in Baodi District.
One-third of Tianjin’s 104 confirmed cases are in Baodi, Xinhua news agency reported.
A salesperson working in the store’s small home appliance section became the first person in the cluster to be diagnosed with COVID-19 on Jan. 31, Xinhua said.
The store was already closed at that point, then disinfected on Feb. 1, but several more diagnoses soon followed, it reported.
Additional reporting by AP
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