- Chinese health expert predicts outbreak will be ‘under control’ by April
- If South Korean rate continues, next report from Seoul health officials could show more cases than mainland China
The number of daily coronavirus infections in South Korea could exceed those in China, with Beijing reporting 433 new cases on Thursday " slightly higher than the 406 of a day earlier " while South Korean cases surged on Thursday morning to 334, bringing its total infections to 1,595.
If the number of new infections reported by Seoul continues to rise at the rate of recent days, South Korea's cases could surpass China's as early as Thursday afternoon, when health officials there are due to report their latest figures.
China's National Health Commission said 409 of its new cases were reported in Hubei province " the epicentre of the outbreak. So far, 78,497 people on the mainland have been infected. There were 29 new deaths reported on Thursday morning, bringing the death toll to 2,744. The commission said a total of 32,495 patients had recovered from the illness.
But cases outside Hubei returned to double digits, with 24 cases reported, a jump from just nine and five cases over the past two days respectively.
Outbreak could be 'under control' by April
Zhong Nanshan, China's top respiratory disease expert, said he was confident the coronavirus outbreak would be "basically under control" by April.
Zhong said the forecast was in line with other experts from overseas and was consistent with earlier predictions.
"Although there was a large outbreak in Wuhan, we did not see massive outbreaks in other cities," he said. "We predicted earlier that the peak should take place in mid or late February, due to the strong intervention by the state and the cancellation of travel peaks after Chinese New Year Holiday.
"It turned out the number of cases began to drop after February 15. Our forecast was similar to some other foreign authoritative experts, and we are confident that the epidemic would be basically under control in April," he said.
Zhong said forecasts by foreign experts " some of whom said more than 160,000 would be infected, did not take into account the interventions by the Chinese government. He said an article by his team which predicted around 70,000 patients, was submitted to an international publication but the paper was not accepted.
China 'must improve' cooperation
Zhong said one infected patient on average infected a further two to three people and that China should improve cooperation and share its experience with other countries, as cases were rising rapidly in countries like South Korea, Italy and Iran.
When asked if foreign cases may be imported into China, he said China must improve cooperation with other countries and share its experience. He also said China should see what it could do to help South Korea, adding that he was willing to join regional forums to share his country's expertise.
First case 'may not have originated in China'
Zhong said even though the outbreaks had started in China, the first case of the coronavirus may not have occurred there.
"When we were making forecasts, we only thought about China and not other countries. But now outbreaks are taking place in other countries. Though the outbreaks started in China, it does not necessarily mean China was the source," he said.
South Korea spread widens
More than half of the new cases in South Korea came from a branch of a secretive Christian sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu. The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese authorities are screening members of the sect in China.
China screening South Korean sect members for coronavirus
So far, 13 people have died in South Korea from the fast-spreading virus. Other major provinces and cities have also reported some infections, with Seoul reporting another six cases, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement.
First case of community outbreak in US
US health officials said on Wednesday they had detected a possible case of "community spread" of Covid-19 " the disease caused by the new coronavirus " with a patient testing positive for the virus, despite having no travel history to places with outbreaks or of being exposed to someone already infected.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statement was released soon after President Donald Trump said in a White House press briefing that he had appointed Vice-President Mike Pence to lead the effort to contain the spread of the illness.
Trump appoints Vice-President Pence to lead anti-coronavirus efforts
Community transmission " in which multiple cases are detected without any clear source of infection " could significantly weaken the effectiveness of containment measures such as travel restrictions.
China reports first 'imported' case
The risk of the coronavirus being imported to China rose on Wednesday, with the small autonomous region of Ningxia reporting a case of a patient who had travelled from Iran.
Local health authorities in the north-central Chinese region said the patient had worn an N95 mask while travelling from Iran to Moscow on February 19. He stayed in the Russian capital for 16 hours before boarding another flight to Shanghai.
The patient then travelled by train from Shanghai on February 22, arriving at Lanzhou, in the northwestern province of Gansu, a day later. He took another train and arrived in Zhongwei, Ningxia on February 24. Health authorities said the patient had worn a mask during train journeys.
Saudi Arabia suspends religious visits
Saudi Arabia has temporarily halted religious pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina " the Islamic world's holiest cities which draw millions of people a year " to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The foreign ministry said entry to the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah " the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which can be undertaken at any time of year " and visiting the Prophet's Mosque had been temporarily suspended.
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, where 15 people have succumbed to the disease.
More than 40 countries affected
The deadly new coronavirus has spread to more than 40 countries outside China, with additional European countries reporting infections related to Italy, the continent's worst-affected country.
Greece confirmed its first case on Wednesday, while Finland and Sweden both reported their second cases. All three patients had been to northern Italy. Norway also announced its first case, a patient who had returned from China late last week.
Separately, Georgia " bordering Russia and Turkey " confirmed its first case, a 50-year-old Georgian national who had arrived from Iran, which has the most fatalities outside China. Pakistan also reported its first two cases of novel coronavirus on Wednesday.
The virus has now spread to six of the seven continents, with Brazil confirming its first case on Wednesday. The patient is a 61-year-old Sao Paulo resident who recently travelled to Lombardy " one of two northern Italian regions at the centre of the outbreak in Europe " for work from February 9 to 21.
North Macedonia also confirmed its first case of coronavirus infection, a Macedonian woman who recently returned home from Italy.
China lodges formal protest over 'racist' article
China's foreign ministry said it had protested to the US embassy in Beijing over a Wall Street Journal commentary it deemed racist.
China would take further action if the US added more restrictions to Chinese news agencies in the US, according to Hua Chunying, the ministry's head of information.
Hua hit back at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks that China's expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters " in retaliation for the article " was a violation of press freedom.
The newspaper commentary, headlined "China is the real sick man of Asia" triggered condemnation among Chinese officials and the online community.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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