The number of confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus has overtaken the 2003 SARS outbreak inside of mainland China, as multiple countries evacuated their citizens from the city at the heart of the outbreak.
As of Wednesday, there were 5,974 confirmed cases of the virus in mainland China, including 132 deaths, according to China’s National Health Commission (NHC). The number of cases grew by almost 1,500 from Tuesday, a more than 30% increase. The figures do not include Hong Kong and Macau, both of which have reported a small number of cases.
There have been more than 80 cases of the virus reported outside mainland China, bringing the worldwide total to over 6,000.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, there were 5,327 confirmed cases of the disease in mainland China, with 349 deaths. Experts have previously estimated the Wuhan virus figures could still be vastly under-reported, making the novel coronavirus far more contagious, but also less deadly, than SARS.
Wuhan’s Communist Party chief Ma Guoqiang said Tuesday that testing had been streamlined in recent days, leading to a spike in diagnoses. “This does not mean the speed of the disease spreading has increased drastically,” he added.
Authorities in China also reported a suspected case of the Wuhan virus in Tibet, previously the only region to have avoided the virus. If confirmed, the spread to Tibet despite the implementation of strict checks on travelers and closing of tourist sites will renew concerns about how easily the virus is transmitted, particularly when people are asymptomatic.
The semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, which has reported eight cases of the virus, announced Tuesday it was closing many of its border crossings with mainland China, slashing the number of tourist visas it issues to mainland Chinese visitors, and halving the number of inbound flights from the mainland.
Hong Kong has also instructed government employees to work from home for the rest of the week, and requested private companies do the same. The streets and public transport were noticeably quiet on Wednesday morning, the first day back from the Lunar New Year holiday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday vowed to do everything to tackle the “demon” epidemic.
Speaking during a meeting with World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom in Beijing, Xi said the Chinese people “are engaging in a serious battle against the outbreak of the new coronavirus.”
“People’s lives and health are always the first priority for the Chinese government, and the prevention and control of the epidemic is the most important task at present, so I have been directing and deploying the works myself,” Xi added. “I believe as long as we can strengthen our confidence, stand together, scientifically prevent and control the epidemic and adopt precise measures, we will definitely defeat this epidemic.”