Mainland China virus cases rise again, 60 more on ship

BEIJING — China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism disease control measures that have isolated major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship.

The mainland death toll rose by 97 to 908.

Another 3,062 cases were reported in China over the 24 hours through midnight Sunday. That was up 15% from Saturday and broke a string of daily declines. A government spokesman had said Sunday those declines showed containment measures were working.

Japanese health officials said about 60 more cases found aboard the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. That was in addition to 70 cases found earlier among 3,711 passengers and crew. Health ministry officials were double-checking the results and could not immediately release the exact figure.

Hong Kong reported seven more cases, raising its total to 36. The government said all of the new cases were part of a family gathering attended by two relatives from mainland China.

Meanwhile, the mother of a physician who died last week in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, said she wants an explanation from authorities who reprimanded her son for warning about the virus.

China has built two hospitals for virus patients in Wuhan and sent thousands of extra doctors, nurses and other health care workers to the city of 11 million people. Most access to Wuhan was suspended Jan. 23 and restrictions were expanded since then ave spread to cities with a total of 60 million people.

The fatality toll has passed the 774 people believed to have died in the 2002-03 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 40,171 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.

More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China. Two deaths from the new virus were recorded in Hong Kong and in the Philippines, raising the total to at least 910.

Asian stock markets slid Monday following warnings that investor optimism the disease and its economic impact were being brought under control might be premature.

China’s central bank announced a 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) fund to make low-interest loans to producers of medicine and medical supplies or other companies involved in fighting the virus.

Chinese businesses are reeling from anti-disease measures that closed shops, restaurants and factories and disrupted travel.

Businesses are gradually reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to discourage travel, but they face heavy losses.

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.

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

“It appears that supply disruptions and hoarding due to the coronavirus outbreak helped to keep food prices elevated during the week after Chinese New Year, when they would normally drop back,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

The ship had been placed under a 14-day quarantine last week after a former passenger tested positive in Hong Kong. Japan’s health minister said the government was considering testing everyone aboard.

Five of the six cases announced Sunday aboard the ship were crew assigned to restaurants, bars or housekeeping, according to the minister, Katsunobu Kato. Testing everyone would require them all to remain on the ship until results are available.

Japanese 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.

On Sunday, Hong Kong released 3,600 people quarantined aboard the cruise ship Dream World after tests of the crew found no infections. The ship was isolated after previous passengers were diagnosed with the virus.

Hong Kong has shut all but two of its land and sea border points to the mainland. On Saturday, it started enforcing a 14-day quarantine on arrivals from mainland China.

Malaysia confirmed its 18th case in a man who works in Macau, a Chinese territory adjacent to Hong Hong, and visited the mainland before going to Malaysia on Feb. 1. The man was first diagnosed with SARS before testing positive for the new virus.

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 postings left on his microblog account said officials should face consequences for mistreating Li.

“We won’t give up if they don’t give us an explanation,” said Lu Shuyun 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.”

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Associated Press Writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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