China counts over 72,000 cases of novel coronavirus as death toll rises

jarun011/iStock(BEIJING) — China’s mainland reported 1,886 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 98 more deaths on Tuesday, as recent data appears to show a decline in the number of new infections since early this month.

A total of 92 cases have also been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan province, with one death in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan, according to the Chinese National Commission of Health. That brings the overall count of confirmed infections in China to 72,531 and the number of deaths to 1,870.

A new study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of the National Health Commission, found that more than 80% of people who contracted the newly discovered virus — known officially as COVID-19 — had mild symptoms and recovered, while 14% of the cases studied included severe symptoms, like pneumonia and shortness of breath. About 5% of patients had critical symptoms, such as organ and respiratory failure and septic shock.

The study, which cited analyses of more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19, also found that a patient’s risk of death increased with their age, and relatively few children contracted the disease.

Scientists need more research to understand why so few cases of the disease have been in children, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference Monday. And while the data indicates a decline in cases, Tedros cautioned that the trend should be “interpreted very cautiously.”

“It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue,” he told reporters. “Every scenario is still on the table.”

COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from mild, such as a slight cough, to more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus, nor any known effective therapeutics.

Outside of China, there were 794 confirmed cases in 25 countries and three reported deaths as of Monday, according to the WHO, which would bring the global death toll to 1,873.

Meanwhile, a cruise ship quarantined in Japanese waters continues to be the largest center of infection of anywhere outside China.

The Diamond Princess docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama on Feb. 3 and was placed under quarantine two days later, as passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, at least 542 people on board the cruise ship have been infected with the disease — 88 of which were newly confirmed in the past 24 hours. At least one quarantine officer has also been infected, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is leading and coordinating the public health response on board.

All those infected with the disease on the Diamond Princess have been brought ashore for treatment, while thousands of other passengers have been confined to their rooms on board until the quarantine period ends.

The United States is the first country to evacuate its citizens from the quarantined ship in Japan. More than 300 American passengers, including 14 who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, were evacuated Monday on two flights chartered by the U.S. government, officials said. Roughly 60 Americans, some who were hospitalized and others who opted to stay on the ship, remain in Japan.

The first charter flight landed at Travis Air Force Base in California early Monday morning. The second landed soon after at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Everyone on board the flights will be quarantined for 14 days. Several individuals, including some who tested positive for the virus, were transferred to hospitals, officials said.

Princess Cruises, which operates the ship, announced in a statement Sunday that it will cancel all Diamond Princess voyages through April 20 due to the “prolonged quarantine period.” The cruise line is offering a full refund to all 2,666 guests who were on board the ship. More than 400 passengers were from the United States.

The initial cases of COVID-19 emerged in December in Wuhan, the capital of China’s central Hubei province. Chinese authorities have placed the city on lockdown in an effort to contain the virus.

The WHO has declared the outbreak a global health emergency, with a “very” high risk of spread within China and a “high” risk of spread at the global and regional levels.

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, told reporters last Friday that 1,716 medical workers are among those infected and six of them have died. Most of the workers were in Hubei province, Zeng said.

The Health Commission of Hubei Province announced last Thursday a change in how cases are diagnosed and counted, with the total number of confirmed cases now including “clinically diagnosed cases,” or patients who showed symptoms of the disease and were diagnosed through CT scans of the lungs, for instance, but have not yet had laboratory testing.

The expanded criteria is meant to ensure “that patients can receive standardized treatment according to confirmed cases as early as possible to further improve the success rate of treatment,” the commission said in a statement.

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