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Coronavirus study prompts optimism despite death toll rise

Officials have welcomed a report showing more than 80% of cases have been mild.

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This electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health shows the coronavrius that causes Covid-19 (NIAID-RML handout/AP)

This electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health shows the coronavrius that causes Covid-19 (NIAID-RML handout/AP)

This electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health shows the coronavrius that causes Covid-19 (NIAID-RML handout/AP)

Mainland China reported 1,886 new cases and 98 more deaths for a total of 1,868 in its coronavirus update on Tuesday as officials said more than 80% of cases had been mild.

The latest figures came after Chinese health officials published the first details on nearly 45,000 cases of infection with the coronavirus that originated there, saying not only had the majority of cases been mild but new ones seemed to be falling since early this month.

The death toll was down slightly from the 105 fatalities in the 24 hours to Monday morning,

The report on the 45,000 cases by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention prompted guarded optimism from health authorities.

China Coronavirus Outbreak
A masked policeman stands guard alone outside Beijing’s Forbidden City, which was deserted due to the coronavirus outbreak (Andy Wong/AP)

A total of 72,436 cases had been reported in mainland China as of Tuesday, although a spike in recent cases was due to a broader definition in the hardest-hit region based on doctors’ diagnoses before laboratory tests were completed.

Monday’s report gives the World Health Organisation a “clearer picture of the outbreak, how it’s developing and where it’s headed”, WHO’s director-general told a news conference.

“It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

China may postpone its annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year, to avoid travel while the disease is still spreading. Communist Party officials will meet on February 24 to deliberate on a postponement of the meeting due to start on March 5.

The country’s biannual auto show, one of the industry’s biggest international events, has been postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or cancelled to avoid travel that may spread the virus.

Shares slipped in Asia on Tuesday as the impact from the outbreak deepened, with news of China’s possible postponement of major events coming alongside the Apple company saying it would fail to meet its profit target since the virus has affected iPhone production.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1.5% to 23,170.62 while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 1.4% to 27,581.19. In South Korea, the Kospi shed 1.4% to 2,209.95, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 0.4% to 2,972.02. Australia’s S&P ASX/200 fell 0.3% to 7,106.00. Shares also fell in Taiwan, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur but rose in Jakarta.

Apple warned investors it would not meet its second-quarter financial guidance.

The California-based company said all of its iPhone manufacturing facilities were outside Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, and all had been reopened. But the company said production was ramping up slowly.

The new disease, called Covid-19, first emerged in December in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, and has spread to more than two dozen other countries.

The new study reports on 44,672 cases confirmed in China as of February 11. The virus caused severe symptoms such as pneumonia in 14% of them and critical illness in 5%.

The fatality rate for these confirmed cases was 2.3% — 2.8% for males and 1.7% for females.

Those rates are lower than for SARS and MERS, which are caused by two similar viruses, but Covid-19 ultimately could prove more deadly if it spreads to far more people than the other two diseases. Ordinary influenza has a fatality rate of 0.1% yet kills hundreds of thousands because it infects millions each year.

The Covid-19 cases include relatively few children, and the risk of death rises with age.

Nebraska Coronavirus Outbreak
Officials help American coronavirus evacuees off a plane to waiting vehicles at Eppley Airfield in Nebraska on Monday (Z Long/AP)

That risk is higher among those with other health problems — more than 10% for those with heart disease, for example, and higher among those in Hubei province versus elsewhere in China.

Cases seem to have been declining since February 1, but that could change as people return to work and school after the Chinese holidays, the report warns.

Beijing has sought to forestall that by extending the Lunar New Year holiday, imposing tight travel restrictions and demanding 14 days of self-quarantine for anyone returning from outside their immediate region.

Hundreds of cases have been confirmed outside China, with a significant number on a cruise ship quarantined at a port near Tokyo.

Japanese officials on Monday confirmed 99 more people were infected on the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454. The Health Ministry said it has now tested 1,723 people on the ship, which had some 3,700 passengers and crew aboard. Outside China, the ship has the largest number of cases of Covid-19.

Japan has 518 confirmed cases, including the 454 from the cruise ship, and has recorded one death from the virus.

The US evacuated 328 American passengers, with most of them now in a 14-day quarantine at military bases in California and Texas. Fourteen of them have the virus and were taken to hospitals in California and Nebraska.

PA