WHO urges calm as China virus death toll nears 1,900

Chinese study of 72,000 patients reveals that 81% of them had only mild infections

The death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak rose again on Tuesday but Chinese and international health officials sought to calm global nerves, citing a study showing that most cases are mild and warning against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.

Nearly 1,900 people have died and more than 72,000 others infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in 25 countries.

The situation remains dire at the epicentre, with the director of a hospital in the central city of Wuhan becoming the seventh medical worker to succumb to the illness. But Chinese officials released a study showing most patients have mild cases of the illness, and the World Health Organization officials said the mortality rate was relatively low.

‘Less deadly’ than SARS

The official death toll in China hit 1,868 on Tuesday after another 98 people died — most in Hubei and Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that it was too early to tell if the decline would continue.

A study among 72,000 confirmed, suspected and clinically diagnosed cases showed that 81% of patients had only mild infections. Those most at risk were the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions.

The study released by China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also showed that the death rate stood at 2.3%, falling below one per cent for people in their 30s and 40s.

The research was cited by WHO officials, who said the COVID-19 illness was “less deadly” than its cousins, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, 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.

Another 88 people tested positive for the virus on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan, raising the number of infections to 542.

The U.S. repatriated more than 300 American passengers on Monday and Britain became the latest country to offer its citizens a way off the ship after similar plans by Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea.

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