BEIJING/SHANGHAI (REUTERS, XINHUA, AFP) - The death toll from a new coronavirus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563 on Thursday (Feb 6), its third consecutive record daily rise, as experts intensified efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has shut down Chinese cities and forced thousands more into quarantine around the world.
Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic, reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases - more than 80 per cent of the total reported by Chinese authorities. The other fatalities were in Tianjin city, the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang and Guizhou province in the south-west.
China's National Health Commission said another 3,694 coronavirus cases were reported throughout the country on Wednesday, bringing the total to 28,018.
Meanwhile, 261 people walked out of the hospital after recovery on Wednesday, making a total of 1,153 patients infected with the virus having been discharged from hospital after recovery as of the end of that day, the health authorities said.
Hubei province's healthcare infrastructure has come under heavy pressure as a result of the epidemic.
A Cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday said one of the government's priorities was to ensure that Hubei and its provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus originated, were granted the necessary supplies and medical personnel to tackle the virus.
More than 200 cases have been reported in 27 other countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements.
Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated from Wuhan and placed in quarantine centres around the world, and thousands of passengers and crew were on lockdown on two cruise ships in Asian waters.
Ten more people on a cruise liner in the Japanese port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, tested positive for the coronavirus, NHK television reported, citing the Japanese health ministry, bringing the total number of cases on board to 20.
About 3,700 people are facing at least two weeks quarantined on the ship after an 80-year-old Hong Kong man who travelled on it late last month tested positive.
"We are hopeful that the US government will be sending transport for the Americans on board," Ms Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist aboard the ship, told Reuters.
"It's better for us to travel while healthy and also if we get sick to be treated in American hospitals."
One passenger using the handle @daxa-tw tweeted on Thursday that crew members had handed out medication refill request forms for those in need of medicines.
In Hong Kong, 3,600 passengers and crew were confined to their ship docked in the city for tests after three people on board tested positive earlier.
In the United States, another 350 American evacuees from Wuhan were placed under quarantine at two military bases in California, bringing to nearly 400 the number of people subject to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) first public health quarantine in 50 years.
"We are in a critical time period in the international spread of the virus, and this action is necessary to try to prevent the spread here," said Dr Christopher Braden, deputy director of the CDC's National Centre for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.
Hong Kong said all visitors from mainland China would be quarantined for two weeks, while Taiwan banned the entry of mainland residents from Thursday.
Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva next week, on Feb 11-12, in an attempt to find a way to fight back against the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
A multinational WHO-led team would go to China "very soon", it added.
Asked about reports of "drug breakthroughs", WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: "There are no known effective therapeutics against this 2019-nCoV." He was using the technical shorthand for the coronavirus.
While most people infected with the virus recover quickly with only mild symptoms, the virus can lead to pneumonia and other severe respiratory illnesses. It is still too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
Many analysts cut their growth outlook for the Chinese economy, the world's third largest, as the epidemic spread, but global markets have stabilised in recent days on central bank stimulus measures and hopes for a vaccine.
The dollar gained on Wednesday and a gauge of global equity markets surged for a third day. European stocks jumped sharply, US Treasury yields rose and US stock index futures surged.
Nearly US$700 billion (S$970 billion) was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday, with many factories shut, cities cut off and travel links constricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains.
Fourteen provinces and cities, including several main industrial centres, which have announced extended business closures account for around 70 per cent of China's gross domestic product and 80 per cent of its exports, Capital Economics said in a note to clients this week.
Global carmakers have already extended factory closures in China in line with government guidelines. These include Hyundai, Tesla, Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Nissan and Honda Motor. Planemaker Airbus has prolonged a planned closure of its final assembly plant in Tianjin, it said.
Taiwan's Foxconn, which makes phones for global vendors including Apple, aims to gradually restart factories in China next week but could take at least a week or two more to resume full production, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.
German sportswear company Adidas said it was temporarily shutting a "considerable" number of its stores in China.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from a phase one trade deal set to take effect this month.
European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde said the virus was adding to economic doubts.
"While the threat of a trade war between the United States and China appears to have receded, the coronavirus adds a new layer of uncertainty," she said in Paris.