China’s death toll from a new coronavirus jumped above 360 on Monday, surpassing the number of fatalities from its SARS crisis two decades ago, with dozens of people dying in the epicentre’s quarantined ground zero.
The 57 confirmed new deaths was the single-biggest increase since the new coronavirus 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 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 were reported Monday in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province, most of which has been under lockdown for almost two weeks to stop people from leaving and transmitting the virus.
The national death toll reached 361, exceeding the 349 mainland fatalities from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03.
SARS, caused by a pathogen similar to the new coronavirus and also originating in China, killed 774 people – with most of the other deaths in Hong Kong.
Stock markets plunge
The virus is also having an increasingly heavy economic impact, shutting down businesses across China, curbing international travel and impacting production lines of major international brands.
Stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen plunged by nearly 9 percent on Monday morning as investors returned from a Lunar New Year holiday that had been extended to stop people travelling around China.
The scale of the plunge was remarkable even by the standards of China’s notoriously volatile share markets, indicating deep concern over the economic impact of the epidemic.
Markets in the world’s second-biggest economy had closed on January 24 for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, but in that time the viral epidemic that started in Wuhan has spread globally. They were scheduled to reopen on Friday but the government extended the holiday to help deal with the virus.
Stock markets worldwide have sunk as major corporate names froze or scaled back their Chinese operations, threatening global supply chains that depend heavily on the country.
New ‘Fire God Mountain’ hospital completed
China sent medical workers and equipment Monday to its just-completed, 1,000-bed hospital for treating victims of the virus that has caused more than 17,300 infections at home and abroad.
About 1,400 military medics will treat patients at the hospital, dubbed “Fire God Mountain”, according to state media.
However, with the death toll surging in Wuhan and elsewhere in Hubei province, it was not immediately clear what overall impact the hospital would have on the virus spreading elsewhere.
A second hospital with 1,500 beds is under construction.
Medical teams from the People’s Liberation Army continued to arrive in Wuhan to relieve the city’s overwhelmed health workers and to work at the new hospital, located in the countryside far from the city center. Footage shown by state broadcaster CCTV showed prefabricated wards equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and ventilation systems.
Leading Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said additional hospital space was crucial to stopping the spread of new infections.
“The lack of hospital rooms forced sick people to return home, which is extremely dangerous. So having additional (beds) available is a great improvement,” Zhong told CCTV’s 24-hour news channel.
Zhong played a major role in overcoming China’s 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, a coronavirus from the same family as the current pathogen.
Eastern Wenzhou city under lockdown
In a worrying signal about the virus already spreading in significant numbers to other parts of China, the eastern industrial city of Wenzhou was on Sunday placed under a similar lockdown to Wuhan.
Roads in Wenzhou, 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the east, were closed and its nine million people were ordered to stay indoors.
Only one resident per household in Wenzhou is allowed to go out every two days to buy necessities, authorities announced.
International travel bans as disease spreads
The first person to die overseas from the virus was a 44-year-old man from Wuhan who travelled to the Philippines, the World Health Organization said.
The G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – have all confirmed cases of the virus.
They will discuss a joint response, Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Sunday.
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 travelling there.
Mongolia, Russia and Nepal have closed their land borders.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)