Coronavirus: China's death toll hits 722, surpasses Sars toll as Hubei province reports 81 new fatalities

A man wears a face mask as an ambulance drives by in Beijing on Feb 7, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WUHAN (REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The number of deaths from China's new coronavirus epidemic jumped to 722 on Saturday (Feb 8) after hard-hit Hubei province reported 81 new fatalities.

The toll is now higher than that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) virus, which left nearly 650 people dead in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Across mainland China, there were 3,399 new confirmed infections on Friday, bringing the total accumulated number so far to 34,546, the country's National Health Commission said on Saturday

In its daily update, Hubei's health commission also confirmed another 2,841 new cases in the central province, where the outbreak emerged in December, taking the total in the province to 24,953.

With the latest deaths, the total fatalities in Hubei province is 699. Most of the new deaths were in Hubei's provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated.

Wuhan reported 67 new deaths on Friday, up from 64 on Thursday. A total of 545 people in Wuhan have now died from the virus. New confirmed cases in Wuhan increased by 1,985 on Friday, up from 1,501 on Thursday.

In mainland China, excluding the 2,050 people who had recovered and the 722 who had died, the total number of outstanding cases stood at 31,774.

A study has found that 40 health-care workers were infected with the novel coronavirus by patients at a single Wuhan hospital in January, underscoring the risks to those at the frontlines of the growing epidemic.

One patient who was admitted to the surgical department was presumed to have infected 10 health-care workers, according to the paper that was authored by doctors at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) on Friday.

Seventeen patients who were hospitalised for other reasons also became infected by the coronavirus. A total of 138 patients got the virus in a period spanning Jan 1 to Jan 28, with hospital-associated transmission accounting for 41 per cent of all cases.

Meanwhile, China has assigned two new officials to be in direct control of the efforts to manage the coronavirus outbreak in Hubei province.

Chen Yixin, who was previously the top Communist Party secretary in the capital of Hubei, will be the the deputy head of the central government's directing group on Hubei, according to a WeChat blog affiliated with state media.

The group is in charge of sorting out the epidemic in the province and is led by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan.

The United States on Friday offered up to US$100 million (S$130 million) to China and other impacted countries to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus.

"This commitment - along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector - demonstrates strong US leadership in response to the outbreak," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"We encourage the rest of the world to match our commitment. Working together, we can have a profound impact to contain this growing threat," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.