TEMPO.CO,Beijing - China reported on Tuesday, Feb. 18, its fewest new coronavirus infections since January and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organization said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.
Apple Inc warned that its sales would suffer as the epidemic hurt both its supply in China and its demand, an announcement that knocked the wind out of global stock markets.
The head of a leading hospital in China's central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.
Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases - the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan. 30 - bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb. 11, bringing the total to 1,868.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data "appears to show a decline in new cases" but any apparent trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".
Outside China, there have been 827 cases of the disease, known as COVID-19, and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.
China says figures showing a slowdown in new cases in recent days show that aggressive steps it has taken to curb travel and commerce are slowing the spread of the disease beyond central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.
But Tom Wingfield, a senior lecturer and physician at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: "It is too early to be certain whether this represents a sustained reduction in COVID-19 transmission and that the epidemic has peaked."
The numbers appeared encouraging, said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Britain's University of Edinburgh, who described himself as cautious.
"Though it is unrealistic to reduce the transmission rate to zero it may have been reduced to a level where the epidemic is brought under control," Woolhouse said.
"It may be that epidemic is simply running its natural course, and is starting to run out of new people to infect. It could also be that the unprecedented public health measures introduced in China are having the desired effect."
Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.