/ AFP, BEIJING
The death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak rose again yesterday, but Chinese and international health officials sought to calm global nerves, citing a study showing most cases are mild and warning against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.
Nearly 1,900 people have died and more than 72,000 people have been infected by the outbreak in China, with hundreds more cases in 25 countries.
The epidemic has sparked panic-buying in Singapore and Hong Kong, concerns about cruise-ship travel, and the postponement of trade fairs, sports competitions and cultural events in China and abroad.
The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralyzed by vast quarantine measures and major firms, such as iPhone maker Apple Inc and mining giant BHP Group, saying it could damage bottom lines.
Several countries have banned travelers from China and major airlines have suspended flights.
The WHO, which has said travel restrictions were unnecessary, rejected the suggestion that all cruises should be halted after hundreds of passengers were infected on one vessel off Japan.
“Measures should be taken proportional to the situation. Blanket measures may not help,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The WHO has praised China for taking drastic measures to contain the virus. Beijing has placed about 56 million people in Hubei Province under an unprecedented lockdown.
Other cities far from the epicenter have restricted the movements of residents, while Beijing ordered people arriving in the capital to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.
The official death toll in China hit 1,868 yesterday after another 98 people died, mostly in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December last year.
There were nearly 1,900 new cases yesterday — a drop from the previous day. Reported new infections have been falling in the rest of the nation for the past two weeks.
However, Tedros said that it was too early to tell if the decline would continue.
The situation remains dire at the epicenter, with the director of a Wuhan hospital becoming the latest medical worker to fall victim to the virus.
Wuchang Hospital director Liu Zhiming （劉智明） died yesterday morning after “all-out rescue efforts failed,” China Central Television reported.
A study released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that among 72,000 confirmed, suspected and clinically diagnosed cases showed that 81 percent of patients had only mild infections. Those most at risk were the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.
The study also showed that the death rate stood at 2.3 percent, falling below 1 percent for people in their 30s and 40s.
Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan （鍾南山） told reporters that 85 percent of patients can improve “if they have good life support, treatment conditions and nutrients.”
Another 88 people tested positive for the virus on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama, Japan, raising the number of infections to 542.
The new cases are to be sent to specialized hospitals, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said in a statement, without giving further details such as their nationalities.