The number of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China rose by 136, pushing the nationwide death toll to 2,004 as of the end of Tuesday, the country’s National Health Commission reported on Wednesday.
At least 132 of the fatalities were from Hubei Province, the epicentre of the epidemic. Nationwide, there had been a further 1,749 new confirmed cases of which 1,693 were from Hubei, bringing the total number of infections across the country to 74,185.
Meanwhile, the global death toll from the virus is at 2,009.
The latest development comes as Russia announced it will suspend entry for Chinese citizens from February 20.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the COVID-19 outbreak – which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province – is not yet out of control, but it has become a “very dangerous situation”.
The virus also claimed a director of a hospital at the epicentre of the outbreak despite “all-out” efforts to save his life, Chinese health officials said on Tuesday.
Liu Zhiming, president of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital in Hubei province, died of coronavirus-related pneumonia. The hospital, one of the seven designated for the epidemic in Wuhan, treated thousands of people a day.
Liu, 51, was a leading figure in neurosurgery. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said Liu made “important contributions in the work of fighting and controlling” the virus, known as COVID-19.
The death came the same day Chinese officials released data indicating the new virus could be 20 times more lethal than the flu.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention put the overall death rate for the virus at 2.3%. The season’s flu death rate in the U.S. thus far is about 0.1%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the coronavirus death rate is far below that of severe acute respiratory syndrome – SARS – a coronavirus that swept across China almost two decades ago. The SARS death rate was almost 10%, although fewer than 10,000 SARS cases were ever confirmed.
The Middle East respiratory syndrome is even more lethal: Since 2012, about 2,500 MERS cases in 27 countries have killed more than 850 people, or about one in three of those infected.
Michael Ryan, emergency programs director for the World Health Organization, said on Tuesday that the new virus death rate could turn out to be lower than it appears. In the first weeks of the outbreak only severe cases were recognized, he noted.
“Now we are going out and looking for less-sick people,” Ryan said. “Our hope is that as we find more and more milder cases, that the overall mortality rate will be less.”
The Chinese study also found that more than 80% of the cases have been mild, the sick and elderly are most at risk, and men are more likely to die than women. The report suggests the outbreak peaked in late January.