By Agence France-Presse
BEIJING — China’s death toll from a new coronavirus jumped above 360 on Monday to surpass the number of fatalities during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis two decades ago with dozens of people dying in the epicenter’s quarantined ground zero.
The national death toll reached 361, exceeding the 349 mainland fatalities from the SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003.
SARS, caused by a pathogen similar to the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease and also originated in China, killed 774 people — with most of the other deaths in Hong Kong.
The 57 confirmed new deaths was the single-biggest increase since the virus was detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped from animals at a market into humans.
The virus has since spread to more than 24 countries, despite many governments imposing unprecedented travel bans on people coming from China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the crisis a global health emergency and the first foreign death from the virus was reported in the Philippines on Sunday.
In China, all but one of the 57 new deaths reported on Monday were in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province, most of which has been under lockdown for almost two weeks, to stop people leaving and transmitting the virus.
In Wuhan, which has been transformed from a bustling industrial hub into a near-ghost town, residents have been living in deep fear of catching the virus.
The city’s medical facilities have been overwhelmed, with state news agency Xinhua reporting Monday that 68 medical teams of 8,300 staff from across China had been sent to Hubei to “aid novel coronavirus control.”
The number of infections in China also jumped significantly on Monday, passing 17,200.
In a worrying signal, the eastern industrial city of Wenzhou was on Sunday placed under a similar lockdown to Wuhan.
Only one resident per household in Wenzhou is allowed to go out every two days to buy necessities, authorities announced.
Stopping the spread
The G7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States — have all confirmed cases of the virus.
They would discuss a joint response, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
The US, Australia, New Zealand and Israel have banned foreign nationals from visiting if they have been in China recently, and they have also warned their own citizens against traveling there.
Mongolia, Russia and Nepal have closed their land borders.
China said Monday it urgently needed medical equipment and surgical masks.
“What China urgently needs at present are medical masks, protective suits and safety goggles,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.
Authorities in provinces that are home to more than 300 million people — including Guangdong, the country’s most populous — have made it compulsory to wear masks in public in an effort to contain the virus.
But factories capable of producing around 20 million masks a day are only operating at between 60 and 70 percent of capacity, Industry Department spokesman Tian Yulong said, adding that supply and demand remained in “tight equilibrium” as a result of the Lunar New Year break.
Tian said authorities were taking steps to bring in masks from Europe, Japan and the US, while the Foreign Ministry said countries, including South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Hungary, had donated medical supplies.
Meanwhile, United Kingdom’s pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said Monday it was joining a global race to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus.
The UK government also pledged £20 million ($26 million) in funding for research at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — a civil group formed at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017.
GSK said its work would complement the four projects already being funded through CEPI to develop a vaccine for the deadly China strain.
“Our [vaccine] adjuvant technology has previously been used successfully in the pandemic flu setting,” GSK Vaccine chief medical officer Thomas Breuer said in a statement.
“It enables using only small quantities of the vaccine antigen which allows the production of more doses of the vaccine — a crucial advantage in a pandemic.”
Adjuvant are agents that boost a body’s response to vaccine or other treatment.
The WHO has declared a global virus emergency but refrained from calling the new epidemic a “pandemic.”
That term is reserved for disease that spread across multiple continents or worldwide.
CEPI was originally formed in response to the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people of the 29,000 recorded cases in west Africa from 2013 to 2016. (IA/SPH.com)