China sees decline in virus deaths, but WHO urges caution

Updated February 19, 2020

Email

RESIDENTS walk through a ‘disinfection channel’ set up at the entrance to their compound in Tongzhou, east of Beijing, on Tuesday. The channel is equipped with humidifiers to spray disinfectants as residents pass through.—AFP
RESIDENTS walk through a ‘disinfection channel’ set up at the entrance to their compound in Tongzhou, east of Beijing, on Tuesday. The channel is equipped with humidifiers to spray disinfectants as residents pass through.—AFP

BEIJING: China reported on Tuesday its fewest new coronavirus infections since January and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organisation said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.

Apple Inc warned that its sales would suffer as the epidemic hurt both its supply in China and its demand, an announcement that knocked the wind out of global stock markets.

The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.

Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases, the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan 30, bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb 11, bringing the total to 1,868.

World Health Organi­sation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebre­yesus said Chinese data “appears to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously”.

Outside China, there have been 827 cases of the disease, known as COVID-19, and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.

Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.

While China says its lockdown of cities and tough curbs on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus, this has come at a great cost to its economy, with repercussions for global businesses.

Stock markets had nonetheless roared ahead, boasted by expectations of stimulus measures to keep China’s economy humming. But Apple’s warning it would fall short of guidance for quarterly revenue because of slower iPhone production and weak Chinese demand sent markets lower.

“We have been pointing out that the market reaction in past weeks was excessively constructive and this could be a wake-up call to all investors that ignored so far potential negative impact,” analysts at UniCredit said.

Chinese state television quoted President Xi Jinping as saying China could still meet its economic growth target for 2020 despite the epidemic.

Economists are warning of potential mass layoffs in China later this year if the virus is not contained soon.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020