Coronavirus deaths in China pass 1,000

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The death toll in China climbed above 1,000, as the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that the spread of cases outside China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” and said the human race must not let the epidemic get out of control.

Hubei province, the epicentre out the outbreak, reported 103 deaths on Monday — the most in any single day — after 91 deaths on Sunday. But the 2,097 new cases was down from the previous day, when there were 2,618.

It is not the first time new cases have fallen. Hubei reported 2,841 cases last Friday and 2,147 the next day.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 40,235 confirmed cases in China with 909 deaths, according to latest figures released by WHO. Outside China, 319 infections had been confirmed in 24 countries, with one death in the Philippines.  

China reported a rise in new coronavirus cases Monday, possibly denting optimism that disease-control measures — including isolating major cities — might be working, while the operator of a cruise ship in Japan reported dozens of new cases.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in recent days, health officials have seen “some concerning instances” of onward transmission of the virus from people with no travel history to China, including cases reported in France and the United Kingdom. 

He said the detection of that small number of cases “could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire.”

“But for now, it’s only a spark,” he said. “Our objective remains containment.”

Co-operation between nations and experts will be key to containment efforts, he said. An advance team of experts led by Canadian Dr. Bruce Aylward has already arrived in Beijing.

The death toll from the new virus passed the 774 people believed to have died in the 2002-03 epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 40,235 cases on the mainland of the new virus far exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.

China has built two hospitals and sent thousands of extra doctors, nurses and other health-care workers to Wuhan, the city of 11 million people in central China that is the epicentre of the outbreak. Most access to Wuhan was suspended on Jan. 23. Restrictions have spread to other cities with a total population of 60 million people.

Cruise ship cases increase

The WHO update came after the operator of a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo, said an additional 66 cases were found aboard. The captain of the ship, however, later revised that number down to 65. That is in addition to 70 reported earlier.

In a statement, Princess Cruises said there is a Canadian among the new cases. The other sick passengers are from Australia, England, Japan, the Philippines, Ukraine and the United States, the cruise company said.

“We are following guidance from the Japan Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases,” the statement said.

This latest case raises to eight the number of Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess who have contracted the virus. The patient will join the seven other Canadians who were earlier taken to Japanese hospitals for treatment and monitoring.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the Japanese government was considering testing all 3,711 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess, which would require them to remain aboard until results are available. Health authorities are scrambling to deliver medicine requested by more than 600 passengers.

“We are doing the utmost to keep everyone in good health,” Kato said.

WATCH: Canadian passenger on quarantined ship growing more worried as case numbers rise

‘I am very afraid of getting sick,’ says Trudy Clement, after seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.  0:56

The British government declared the virus a “serious and imminent threat to public health,” which it said gives authorities powers to forcibly detain infected people if necessary. The change comes after a British man who caught the virus in Singapore in January appeared to be linked to at least seven other confirmed cases in Europe.

As of Saturday, there were seven confirmed cases of coronavirus in Canada — four in B.C. and three in Ontario.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the public health risk from the novel virus is low in Canada.

Some businesses reopening in China

Businesses are gradually reopening in China following the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to discourage travel in an attempt to contain the virus, but they face heavy losses.

Zhang Peng, who works for a livestreaming company in Beijing, went to the office for the first time since the holiday. The company checked employees for fever and handed out masks.

“I thought the situation is fairly good now,” Zhang said. “I went to work by subway today and underwent various checks in the station. And my company did a good job of prevention and control.”

Iris Ke, who works for an advertising company, said she plans to wait until next week to go back to the office.

At the Sanyuanli market in Beijing, the Chinese capital, shoppers in face masks mixed with delivery drivers who were collecting orders of meat, fruit and vegetables. Stalls were stocked with pork, mutton, seafood and vegetables.

“The number of customers here is down a lot, maybe by more than half,” said Liu Ying, who sells walnuts, cashews and other specialties. “But you can see a lot of people calling in orders, so we’re slowly getting busy again.”

China pledges tax cuts, subsidies and loans

China’s central bank announced a $43 billion US fund to make low-interest loans to producers of medicine and medical supplies or other companies involved in fighting the virus.

Over the weekend, the government promised tax cuts and subsidies to farmers, supermarkets, producers of medical supplies and companies that contribute to anti-disease work.

China’s leaders are trying to keep food flowing to crowded cities despite the anti-disease controls and to quell fears of possible shortages and price spikes following panic buying after most access to Wuhan and nearby cities was cut off.

Police officers wearing protective suits set up a cordon in the grounds of a residential estate in Hong Kong early on Monday, after two people in the block were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus according to local newspaper reports. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Consumer inflation spiked to an eight-year high of 5.4 per cent over a year earlier in January, driven by a 4.4 per cent rise in food costs, the government reported Monday. Food prices rose 1.4 per cent from the previous month.

Organizers of the Hong Kong Arts Festival on Monday cancelled all of its more than 120 planned music, dance and drama performances, including two concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The festival was due to start this week and run through mid-March.

Mother of dead doctor wants answers

Meanwhile, the mother of a physician who died last week in Wuhan said in a video released Sunday she wants an explanation from authorities who reprimanded him for warning about the virus in December.

The death of Li Wenliang, 34, prompted an outpouring of public anger. Some posts left on his microblog account said officials should face consequences for mistreating him.

“We won’t give up if they don’t give us an explanation,” Lu Shuyun said, in the video distributed by Pear Video, an online broadcast platform.

The video shows flowers in her home with a note that says, “Hero is immortal. Thank you.”

Information about the coronavirus outbreak is spreading fast, but what do we actually know about the illness? CBC News medical contributor and family physician Dr. Peter Lin breaks down the facts about what it is, where it came from, how it spreads and what you can do to protect yourself. 5:10

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