GUANGZHOU (REUTERS) - China's coronavirus epidemic may peak in February and then plateau before easing, the government's top medical adviser on the outbreak said.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Dr Zhong Nanshan, a leading epidemiologist who won international fame for his role in combating the Sars epidemic in 2003, said the situation in some provinces was already improving, with the number of new cases declining.
Zhong, who had previously predicted an earlier peak, said the forecast was based on modelling and developments in recent days, as well as government action.
"So, we suppose... the peak time may be reached at the, maybe middle or late this month, February... and then keep a little bit plateau or something like that and then going down," he said.
He said containment measures in the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, were necessary, and the country should also permanently ban trade in wildlife.
It also needed to improve its disease control mechanisms and even help set up a global early warning system for contagious diseases.
The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in mainland China soared past 1,000 on Tuesday (Feb 11) with a record daily rise in fatalities, while the prolonged disruption to factories and businesses played havoc with the world’s second-largest economy.
Hundreds of Chinese firms say they will need billions of dollars in loans to stay afloat and layoffs have begun, despite assurances by President Xi Jinping that widespread sackings would be avoided.
Another 108 new coronavirus deaths were reported on Tuesday, a daily record, bringing the total number of people killed in the country to 1,016, the National Health Commission said.
There were 2,478 new confirmed cases on the mainland on Feb 10, down from 3,062 on the previous day, bringing the total to 42,638.
It was the second time in the past two weeks that the authorities recorded a daily drop in new cases, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned the spread of cases outside of China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire”.
So far, only 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories, according to WHO and Chinese health officials, with two deaths outside mainland China in Hong Kong and the Philippines.