WHO says too early to say coronavirus peaking in China

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was too early to say that China’s coronavirus outbreak was peaking, but noted that the country had recorded its first day of a drop in the number of new infections.

The death toll from the virus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections inside the world’s second-largest economy. That number had risen by nearly 4,000 from Wednesday to Thursday.

Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said it was very difficult to make predictions on the course of the disease first reported in the central city of Wuhan in late December, noting: “We are still in the middle of an intense outbreak”.

“There are cycles of transmission, and we may see those cases increase in the coming days. But at least for the moment, things are stable,” Ryan told a news conference.

“But 4,000 cases or nearly, 3,700 coronavirus cases confirmed in a single day, is nothing to celebrate and is certainly still a great worry,” he said.

There is a constant rise in infections in the epicentre of Hubei province, which accounts for about 80 pct of cases, Ryan said, adding: “But we haven’t see that same acceleration in provinces outside Hubei. And equally we haven’t seen that acceleration in Hong Kong, Macao, in Taiwanese people either.”

Earlier, the United States and China clashed over the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO meetings, including the ongoing Executive Board, where it is represented by China, with Beijing accusing Washington of political “hype-up”.

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“It’s hard to believe just two months ago this virus was unknown to us,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

“We have already learned so much about it, we know its DNA, we know it can be transmitted from one person to another, we know that those most at risk are older people and those with underlying health conditions,” he said.

But there is still a lot to learn, including the source of the virus, its severity and ability to spread, Tedros said.

Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said that the virus causes a “full spectrum of disease”.

“You have mild cases which look like the common cold, which have some respiratory symptoms - sore throat, runny nose, fever - all way through pneumonia. And there can be varying levels of pneumomia, all the way through multiple organ failure and death,” she said, calling for further study of mild cases and how easily they can spread the virus.

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(Graphic: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS, here)

(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus, here)

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean