China reports uptick in new virus cases but downward trend holds

February 21, 2020 09:53
A medical worker in protective suit interacts with a patient inside an isolated ward at a hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in China’s Hubei province. Photo: China Daily via Reuters

China's Hubei province reported an uptick in new cases of coronavirus on Friday, reversing three days of declines, although the numbers still confirmed a downward trend, Reuters reports.

Hubei, the province at the center of the global health emergency, said it had counted 411 new cases on Feb. 20, up from 349 a day earlier but still the lowest since Jan. 26.

The death toll in Hubei rose by 115 to 2,144, mostly in the provincial capital of Wuhan, a city of 11 million which remains under virtual lockdown.

Chinese officials say the declining rate of new infections shows they are succeeding in keeping the virus contained to Hubei, with severe restrictions on travel and movement imposed at great cost to the economy.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged the apparent slowdown in Chinese infections but warned the flu-like virus could still spread rapidly in China and beyond.

"We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency," Tedros told reporters.

To date, 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to the WHO, and while that was very low compared with about 75,000 inside China, Tedros said: “That may not stay the same for long”.

South Korea’s fourth-largest city, Daegu, is the latest hotspot, with streets abandoned and residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the new coronavirus in what authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church.

Meanwhile, China's Global Times newspaper reported 36 new cases at one Beijing hospital as of Thursday, a sharp increase from nine cases two weeks earlier.

The new cases have led “many to fear a potential explosion of infection numbers" in the Chinese capital, the paper said.

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