The death toll from the novel coronavirus surged past 900 in mainland China on Monday, overtaking global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, even as the World Health Organization said the outbreak appeared to be stabilising.
With 91 more people dying in Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, the toll is now higher than the 774 killed worldwide by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The latest data came after the WHO said the last four days had seen “some stabilising” in Hubei, but warned the figures could still “shoot up”.
At least 39,800 people in China have now been infected by the virus, believed to have emerged late last year in Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where residents are struggling to get daily supplies.
The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down whole cities as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis — especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.
With much of the country still not back at work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, cities including financial hub Shanghai ordered residents to wear masks in public.
Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the “stable period” of the outbreak “may reflect the impact of the control measures”.
A WHO “international expert mission” left late Sunday for China, the agency’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter. The mission is led by Bruce Aylward, a veteran of previous health emergencies.
While the death toll has climbed steadily, new cases have declined since Wednesday’s single-day peak of nearly 3,900 people nationwide.
Millions of people are under lockdown in Hubei in a bid to stop the virus spreading.
“The local government asked people to stay at home as much as possible, but there are not enough goods in shops each time we get there, so we have to go out frequently,” a woman in Wuhan, surnamed Wei, told AFP.