Coronavirus death toll crosses 1,000; outbreak could infect 60% of global population if ‘unchecked’
China has "removed" several senior officials over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The WHO has warned countries over the epidemic, asking them to “use window of opportunity to prevent bigger fire”.
The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in mainland China soared past 1,000 on Tuesday with a record daily rise in fatalities. This comes as Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist warned that the outbreak could spread to about two-thirds of the world’s population if not controlled.
Prof Gabriel Leung, the chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, spoke about the issue after the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said recent cases of coronavirus patients who had never visited China could be the “tip of the iceberg”.
Leung said the overriding question was to figure out the size and shape of the iceberg. Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to transmit the virus to about 2.5 other people. That gave an “attack rate” of 60-80%.
“Sixty per cent of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” Leung told the Guardian in London, en route to an expert meeting at the WHO in Geneva.
Another 108 new coronavirus deaths were reported on Tuesday, a daily record, bringing the total number of people killed in the country to 1,016, the National Health Commission said.
There were 2,478 new confirmed cases on the mainland on February 10, down from 3,062 on the previous day, bringing the total to 42,638.
The WHO has cautioned the spread of cases outside of China could be "the spark that becomes a bigger fire".
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping appeared in pubic for the first time since the outbreak, wearing a surgical mask and a gown. He visited the Chaoyang district in Beijing on Monday “to learn about the situation of epidemic prevision and control at the grassroots level,” according to state-run media Xinhua.
So far only 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories, according to WHO and Chinese health officials, with two deaths outside mainland China in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
China ‘removes’ top officials
Amid the alarming situation, China has “removed” several senior officials over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan -- the sprawling capital of central China’s Hubei province.
Hubei's government has dismissed the provincial health commission's Communist Party boss, Zhang Jin, and director Liu Yingzi, state media CCTV reported, amid public anger over local authorities' handling of the outbreak.
The death of a doctor whose early warnings were suppressed by authorities sparked widespread public anger.
Hubei remains in virtual lockdown, with its train stations and airports shut and roads blocked.
The deputy director of the local Red Cross was also removed for "dereliction of duty" over "handling of donations".
The two Hubei party officials will be replaced by a national figure -- the deputy director of China's National Health Commission -- Wang Hesheng.
Top Chinese academic blames President Xi for 'catastrophe'
Prominent Chinese intellectual Xu Zhangrun has become the first high-profile public figure to lay the blame for the coronavirus crisis at the feet of Xi Jinping, saying the spread of the deadly virus has “revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance”.
Xu, a law professor from one of the country’s top universities, lambasted the government under Xi in an essay titled " Viral Alarm, When Fury Overcomes Fear”.
In it, Xu laid the blame for the current national crisis at the feet of Xi and a culture of suppression and “systemic impotence” that he has created.
More than 300 Chinese companies are seeking bank loans totalling at least 57.4 billion yuan ($8.2 billion) to help cope with the disruption caused by locked down cities, closed factories and crippled supply lines, two banking sources said.
Among the prospective borrowers are food delivery giant Meituan Dianping, smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp and ride-hailing provider Didi Chuxing Technology Co.
Chinese firm Xinchao Media said it had laid off 500 people.
One Beijing government official, Zhang Gewho, said it would be harder to curb the spread of the virus as people return to work following the end of their holidays.
WHO experts in China
An advance team of international WHO experts arrived in China to investigate the outbreak. Its death toll has now surpassed that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002/2003.