The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surged to 2,000 on Wednesday, as Chinese and international health officials warned against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.
More than 74,000 people have now been infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in some 25 countries.
The situation remains serious 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 infection, and World Health Organisation officials said the mortality rate was relatively low.
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 and mining giant BHP warning it could damage bottom lines.
‘Less deadly’ than SARS
The official death toll in China hit 2,000 after another 132 people died in Hubei, where the virus emerged in December.
Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, became its latest victim, sparking an outpouring of grief online.
Earlier this month, the death of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang — who had been punished by authorities for sounding the alarm about the virus in late December — triggered anger and calls on social media for political reform.
Official figures, meanwhile, showed there were nearly 1,700 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday in Hubei.
New infections have been falling in the rest of the country for the past two weeks.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that it was too early to tell if the decline would continue.
A study among tens of thousands of confirmed and suspected cases showed that 81 per cent of patients had only mild infections.
The study released by China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also showed the death rate stood at 2.3 per cent, falling below one per cent for people in their 30s and 40s.
Read also: Robbers steal 6,000 surgical masks in Japan WHO officials said the COVID-19 illness was “less deadly” than its cousins, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
But it is higher than the mortality rate for the seasonal flu, at around 0.1 per cent in the United States. Ryan said the outbreak was “very serious” and could grow, but stressed that outside Hubei the epidemic was “affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people”.
There have been some 900 cases around the world, with five deaths in France, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Another 88 people tested positive for the virus on the quarantined Diamond Prince cruise ship off Yokohama in Japan, raising the number of those infections to 542.—AFP