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WHO urges calm as China virus death toll nears 1,900

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

BEIJING, China (AFP) — The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak rose again on Tuesday but Chinese and international health officials sought to calm global nerves, citing a study showing most cases are mild and warning against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.

Nearly 1,900 people have now died and more than 72,000 others infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in some 25 countries.

The situation remains dire at the epicentre, with the director of a hospital in the central city of Wuhan becoming the seventh medical worker to succumb to the COVID-19 illness.

But Chinese officials released a study showing most patients have mild cases of the illness, and World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said the mortality rate was relatively low.

The epidemic has triggered panic-buying in Singapore and Hong Kong, concerns about cruise-ship travel and the postponement of trade fairs, sports competitions and cultural events in China and abroad.

The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralysed by vast quarantine measures and major firms such as iPhone maker Apple, mining giant BHP and Air Canada warning it could damage bottom lines.

Several countries have banned travellers from China and major airlines have suspended flights.

Russia on Tuesday said no Chinese citizens would be allowed to enter its territory from February 20.

Authorities have placed about 56 million people in hard-hit central Hubei and its capital Wuhan under an unprecedented lockdown.

The city was carrying out a "very good public health practice" with door-to-door and active surveillance, said Michael Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies programme.

Other cities far from the epicentre have restricted the movements of residents, with a 14-day self-quarantine for people returning to Beijing.

President Xi Jinping, in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said China's measures were achieving "visible progress", according to state media.