The number of deaths from a coronavirus outbreak in China has topped 900, while an increase in cases in Britain has led the government there to declare the virus a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.
Britain reported four new cases Monday, bringing to eight the number of people testing positive for the virus. Health Minister Matt Hancock made the declaration to give the government more power to isolate people in its bid to keep the virus from spreading.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Monday that the spread of coronavirus between people who had no history of travel to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire.”
“In recent days, we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China,” he said, citing the new cases in Britain as well as in France.
Tedros said an advance WHO team of medical experts arrived in China on Monday to help investigate the outbreak.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that he is expecting the coronavirus outbreak to disappear in April because of the warmer weather. “The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,” he said.
Also Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to a hospital in Beijing Monday, speaking with healthcare workers and patients. Xi donned a blue mask during his visit to the Beijing Ditan hospital – a designated institution treating the coronavirus.
Xi, who has largely stayed out of the public eye since the epidemic began in December, also visited a residential community in central Beijing to talk to locals about their daily lives during the outbreak.
Chinese health officials reported 97 new deaths Sunday, pushing the total to 908. There were also 3,062 new cases, which reversed a multi-day downward trend that had brought hopes containment measures were working.
In Japan, a cruise ship remains in quarantine in Yokohama with 66 new cases reported Monday, more than doubling the number of known cases on board.
The Diamond Princess was ordered to remain isolated last week after a passenger who got off the ship in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.
The center of the outbreak is China’s Hubei province where millions remain under lockdown and people are complaining of food shortages.
Commerce official Wang Bin said Sunday said there are poor logistics, price increases and labor shortages.
“It is difficult for the market supply to reach normal levels,” he acknowledged. Currently, he said there is a five-day supply of pork and eggs, and a three-day supply of vegetables.
China’s central bank said that starting Monday it would make available 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) to help businesses involved in fighting the epidemic.
Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, told the Reuters news agency it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking due to the uncertainty in the number of cases.
“Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don’t know what is happening with unreported cases,” he said. “This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas.”
The death toll from the coronavirus is higher than that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened nearly 8,100 in China and the special administrative region of Hong Kong.