Mainland China, excluding Hubei, reports lowest new daily infections

BEIJING (Reuters) - Mainland China - excluding Hubei province where the new coronavirus outbreak originated - reported four new cases of infection on Friday, the lowest since the national health authority started compiling nationwide data in January.

People wearing face masks walk next to barriers set up at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

The central province of Hubei reported 423 new confirmed cases on Friday, the National Health Commission said on Saturday, up from 318 a day earlier.

That pushed the overall number of new infections on Friday in mainland China to 427, data from the health authority showed.

Of the new cases in Hubei, 420 were reported in the provincial capital of Wuhan, the city hardest-hit by the outbreak.

China has imposed tough measures to contain the pathogen including strict home quarantines, curbs on people and vehicle traffic, and the extension of the Lunar New Year holiday that shuttered businesses and factories.

In the first official snapshot of the economic impact of such restrictions, the national statistics bureau reported on Saturday a record pace of contraction in manufacturing activity in February.

China’s economy will take a big hit in the first quarter due to work stoppages, but should recover rapidly unless the outbreak worsens again, a Chinese official told Reuters on Friday.

The International Monetary Fund has said the outbreak will likely lower China’s economic growth by 0.4 percentage point this year to 5.6% and shave 0.1 percentage point from global growth.

The new infections on Friday bring the total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 79,251.

The death toll from the outbreak in China reached 2,835 as of the end of Friday, up by 47 from the previous day. Hubei province reported 45 new deaths, while in provincial capital Wuhan 37 people died.

As new daily infections in China slow, the government has urged businesses and factories in regions that are considered low-risk to resume production and safeguard jobs.

Seventeen provinces, regions and municipalities have lowered their emergency response level so far, including big coastal provinces such as Guangdong and Jiangsu.

Beijing and Shanghai have yet to downgrade their emergency measures from the highest level.

In contrast, the coronavirus continued to expand its footprint around the world, with at least six countries on four continents reporting new cases for the first time on Friday.

South Korea, one of the worst-hit places outside of China, reported 594 new cases, raising the country’s total infections to 2,931.

The risk of a global spread and impact of the coronavirus is now “very high”, the highest level of alarm, the World Health Organization said.

Reporting by Stella Qiu, Sophie Yu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sandra Maler and Stephen Coates