Image: Johns Hopkins
By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) – Workers began trickling back to offices and factories around China on Monday as the government eased some restrictions on work and travel in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic that has now killed more than 900 people, mostly on the mainland.
Sunday’s death toll of 97 was the largest in a single day since the outbreak was first detected in December at a seafood market in Hubei province’s capital, Wuhan.
Across mainland China, there were 3,062 new confirmed infections, bringing the total number so far to 40,171, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).
The epidemic has caused huge disruptions in China with usually teeming cities becoming virtual ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, canceled flights, closed factories and shut schools.
Authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto Lunar New Year holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January.
Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces will remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.
On one of the usually busiest subway lines in Beijing, trains were largely empty. The few commuters sighted during peak-hour morning traffic were all wearing masks.
Across China, schools in provinces and regions such as Guangdong, Anhui, Zhejiang, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Jiangxi, and Inner Mongolia, as well as Shanghai and Chongqing will be shut through the end of February.
An advance team of international experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is heading for Beijing to help investigate the epidemic.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made a trip to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January, returned with an agreement on sending an international mission.
But it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government’s green light on its composition, which was not announced, other than to say that WHO veteran Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert, was heading it.
“I’ve just been at the airport seeing off members of an advance team for the @WHO-led #2019nCoV international expert mission to #China, led by Dr Bruce Aylward, veteran of past public health emergencies,” Tedros said in a tweet from Geneva on Sunday.
The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province.
The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China rose by 97, the largest in a single day so far, to 908 as of the end of Sunday.
Over the weekend, an American hospitalized in the central city of Wuhan became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.
The coronavirus outbreak has now killed more people than the SARS epidemic did globally in 2002/2003.
The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and territories, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China – both of Chinese nationals.
The latest patients outside China include a group of British nationals staying in a mountain village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said, raising fears of further infections across Europe.
Reporting by Ryan Woo and Huizhong Wu; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; ylie MacLellan in London and Jessica Jones in Madrid; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Michael Perry.