An American citizen has died in Wuhan, China, from the coronavirus epidemic, with the death toll edging closer to the total from SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome, circa 2002). The American, about 60 years old, died Thursday, and a Japanese man suspected of contracting the virus also died in Wuhan, officials said.
The disease is spreading, Bloomberg reports, with five British citizens sharing an Alps chalet confirmed with the illness, and two new cases on a Princess Cruise ship in Japan–the largest center of infections outside China. In Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, infections may be stabilizing.
The virus will have reached a threshold this past weekend if deaths continue at the current pace. The China death toll as of Saturday stood at 722; confirmed cases at 34,546. The global toll has reached 724 in about two months, while the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 774 people over about eight months.
“There has been a stabilization in the number of cases reported in Hubei province,” epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, told reporters Saturday in Geneva. “We’re in a four-day stable period where the number of reported cases hasn’t advanced and that’s good news and may reflect the impact of the control measures we’ve put in place,” Ryan said. “But remember, there are lot of suspected cases still to be tested.”
Two provinces outside Hubei–Guangdong and Zhejiang–each have more than 1,000 cases. It’s hard to say if the rate of infection in those regions is increasing or decreasing as the WHO is still learning when symptoms first appeared, said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the outbreak investigation task force. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a note of caution about being too optimistic over signs of stabilization.
“I think we have to understand it with caution because as you know, epidemics can show some stability for a few days and then shoot up,” he said.
Rounding out the global picture, Singapore reported seven additional confirmed cases, bringing its total to 40. Princess Cruises said that two people on its Diamond Princess ship parked off the coast of Japan have tested positive for the disease. The number of the Japanese infected with the virus stood at 26, excluding those from the quarantined ship, the report said.
And a group of Britons sharing a ski holiday in the French Alps have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Four adults and a child have been confirmed as having the illness and 11 people have been hospitalized, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Saturday. The new cases started with a British national who traveled to France after a three-day stay in Singapore.