More than 2,000 people have died from the ongoing outbreak of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes a disease known as COVID-19, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing the latest figures including an updated tally from China’s National Health Commission.
The official count of infected has now exceeded 75,100, most of them in the center of the outbreak in mainland China. According to the New York Times, however, the climb in the number of confirmed cases has slowed slightly since Feb. 12, with the count of new infected in China dipping below 2,000 on Feb. 18 (1,886) and Feb. 19 (1,749) for the first time since Jan. 30. Chinese authorities and health officials across the globe have shown cautious optimism that the increasingly harsh measures imposed in China to halt COVID-19's spread (with nearly half the population facing some movement restrictions) may be beginning to work, the Times wrote.
China’s ambassador to the European Union said earlier this week that the country expects the global impact to be “limited, short-term, and manageable,” according to Reuters. President Xi Jinping has sought to downplay concerns that the virus will further rock the Chinese economy, with state media reporting that he reassured British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that “visible progress” is being made.
World Health Organization officials said that the lockdowns have slowed the spread of the virus from its epicenter in Wuhan, Hubei province by two to three days and from China to the rest of the world by the same number of weeks, according to the Times. World Health Organization chief of rapid response Dr. Michael Ryan told the paper, “Right now, the strategic and tactical approach in China is the correct one. You can argue whether these measures are excessive or restrictive on people, but there is an awful lot at stake here in terms of public health—not only the public health of China but of all people in the world.”
However, University of Hong Kong chief of virology Malik Peiris told the Times that it’s too early to tell whether the virus is slowing: “It could be unwise for anybody in China, or outside China, to be complacent that this is coming under control at this point in time.”
The case fatality rate of COVID-19 among identified infected is currently believed to be around 2.5 percent, compared to around 0.10 to 0.18 percent for the annual U.S. flu; that’s far lower than some other attention-grabbing novel viruses like SARS (around 10 percent). The vast majority of cases (80 percent, according to a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevent) only minor symptoms. Many factors, such as how transmissible it is and how long it can survive on surfaces remain unclear, and it is possible that there are many unreported cases. A vaccine is likely at least 12 to 18 months away.
Some 613 cases of the virus have now been identified in Japan, according to CNN, but a whopping 545 of those were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama. Other than the 68 infections in mainland Japan, CNN wrote, there have been 81 identified infections in Singapore and 62 in Hong Kong. In the entirety of Europe the number of confirmed cases is 42.
National Institutes of Health immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Tuesday that the slowdown has yet to be confirmed. Fauci told the network that “we need to give it a few more days to determine if that’s real or if that’s the variability that you generally see.”
“The degree with which they have shut down travel through major cities, encompassing about 50 million people including the entire 11 million person city of Wuhan ... is really unprecedented,” Fauci added. “... It might actually work, as unusual as such a move is to stop an outbreak.”
According to the Times, an estimated 150 million people in China are largely confined to homes, with a total of 760 million living in areas facing some kind of restriction. Enforcement ranges from a district of Xi’an where residents are only allowed out every two to three days for two hours to ID and temperature checks in residential communities.