China reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday since January 23 when Wuhan - epicentre of the outbreak - went into lockdown, but a leading Chinese scientist has warned the disease may become an established illness like flu.
Wang Chen, president of the China Academy of Medical Science, said that despite the recent drop in the rate of new cases and fatalities on the mainland, the world should be prepared for the possibility that Covid-19 - the official name of the illness caused by the coronavirus - was here to stay.
There were 394 new cases reported in mainland China, and a further 114 deaths, as of midnight Wednesday. So far, the disease has killed 2,118 people on the mainland. There have been a total of 74,576 confirmed cases. China's National Health Commission reported that 1,779 patients had recovered by Wednesday, bringing the total number of people who have recovered from the disease to 16,155.
It was also the 16th straight day of a fall in new infections outside Hubei province. New infections in Hubei have now dropped for seven consecutive days.
Wang said the new coronavirus was different from the virus which caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which was both contagious and fatal. "This new coronavirus may become a long-term disease that coexists with humans, just like flu," he told state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday.
Wang did not say whether the outbreak had reached its peak, commenting only that measures should be taken to contain its spread.
In Wuhan, provincial capital of Hubei, changes in diagnostic criteria continued to affect the number of reported cases. There were 615 new cases recorded, but the National Health Commission said the actual number was 359, after some cases were removed because of the diagnostic change.
Previously, Hubei, including Wuhan, also counted clinically diagnosed patients as confirmed cases. This changed on Wednesday with a new treatment plan, which will count only those who have tested positive in a nucleic acid test. Numbers of cases were accordingly deducted in 10 cities, with the city of Jingmen in Hubei taking 107 previously confirmed cases from its records.
Hubei reported 108 new deaths - a fall on the previous day's 132 - on Thursday, bringing the province's total fatalities to 2,029. Provincial capital Wuhan, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated at a seafood and meat market, accounted for 88 deaths, the local health authority said.
The province also reported a sharp drop in newly confirmed cases at 349, compared with 1,693 on Wednesday. These figures raised the province's total infections to 62,031 since December, when the illness was first reported.
The Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, remains the location with the largest number of infections outside China, with more than 620 confirmed cases. The ship originally had 3,100 passengers and staff aboard.
Since more than 300 Americans and their family members were evacuated from the ship on Sunday, 14 of them have been tested positive of the virus. The evacuees are currently under a 14-day quarantine.
A Japanese professor who gained access to the Diamond Princess said in a YouTube video posted Tuesday that he was shocked by the lack of infection control measures on board.
More than 100 Americans are still aboard the ship or in hospitals in Japan, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
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