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China's coronavirus death toll rises by 89 to 811, passing number of fatalities in the Sars epidemic

Medical workers treat patients in the isolated intensive care unit at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Pictuer by Chinatopix/AP
Joe McDonald

China's virus death toll rose by 89 on Sunday to 811, passing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 Sars epidemic, but fewer new cases were reported.

It is a possible sign its spread may be slowing as other nations step up efforts to block the disease.

Some 2,656 new virus cases were reported in the 24 hours ending at midnight on Saturday, most of them in the central province of Hubei, where the first patients fell sick in December.

That was down by about 20 per cent from the 3,399 new cases reported in the previous 24-hour period.

"That means the joint control mechanism of different regions and the strict prevention and control measures have worked," a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said at a news conference.

Also on Sunday, new cases were reported in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Spain.

More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China.

"Dramatic reductions" in the spread should begin this month if containment works, Dr Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University's Centre for Infection and Immunity, said.

He assisted the World Health Organisation and Chinese authorities during the outbreak of Sars.

Warmer weather will reduce the virus's ability to spread and bring people out of enclosed spaces where it is transmitted more easily, Dr Lipkin said in an online news conference.

But he said if new cases spike as people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, then "we'll know we're in trouble".

The fatality toll passed the 774 people believed to have died of Sars, another viral outbreak that originated in China.

The total of 37,198 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by Sars.

Japan reported six more cases among 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the number of infections on the vessel to 70.

The new cases are an American passenger in her 70s and five crew members – four Filipinos and a Ukrainian.

South Korea reported a new case in a 73-year-old woman whose relatives visited Guangdong province in southern China, raising its total to 27.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the family members, a 51-year-old South Korean man and a 37-year-old Chinese woman, were confirmed infected later on Sunday.

Vietnam reported its 14th case. The Health Ministry said she is a 55-year-old woman in Vinh Phuc province, north-west of Hanoi, where six earlier patients were found to be infected.

Malaysia reported its 17th case. The 65-year-old woman's son-in-law was diagnosed earlier with the virus.

Spain confirmed its second case in Majorca. The first case was a German tourist diagnosed a week ago in the Canary Islands.

Meanwhile, the 1,800 passengers and 1,800 crew members of the cruise ship Dream World were released from quarantine after Hong Kong authorities said tests of the crew found no infections.

The ship was isolated after eight mainland Chinese passengers were diagnosed with the disease last month.

A 1,500-bed hospital built in two weeks in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, accepted its first patients on Saturday, the government announced.

Another 1,000-bed hospital built in 10 days opened last week.

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