COVID-19 new infections dropping in China

The number of new cases from China’s coronavirus epidemic dropped for a third consecutive day on Sunday, but the death toll jumped to 1,665 after 142 more people died.

In hardest-hit Hubei, the new cases were estimated at 139. The number of new cases in other parts of the country also dropped for twelve straight days.

More than 68,000 people have now been infected. The death toll also levelled with Saturday’s toll.

Global concern remains high about the spread of the virus, which first emerged in China’s central Hubei province in December, with the first death outside Asia reported in France this weekend.

The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned however that it was “impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take”.

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“We ask all governments, companies, and news organisations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria,” he said, speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

“China has bought the world time. We don’t know how much time.”

The UN health body has asked China for more details on how diagnoses are being made.

An international team of WHO experts will arrive in Beijing this weekend for a joint mission with Chinese counterparts.

The scale of the epidemic ballooned on Thursday after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding thousands of new patients to their tally.

Hubei added more than 14,000 cases in a single day after officials there started counting people clinically diagnosed through lung imaging, in addition to those with a positive lab test result.

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Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Local authorities around the country have introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading.

Beijing’s municipal government has enacted a rule requiring all people coming to the capital to quarantine themselves for 14 days, warning that violators would be punished, according to official media.

Outside mainland China, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist in France was the fourth person to die from the new coronavirus, with the other deaths in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.

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The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan, with 355 infections now as dozens more cases were confirmed.

The US, Canada and Hong Kong said they will evacuate their own citizens from the ship, and quarantine them on home soil.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services to the country.