China has reported a big drop in new coronavirus cases, raising hopes that the epidemic could be nearing a peak, but deaths continued to mount, including those of two elderly passengers from a quarantined cruise ship.
China’s National Health Commission on February 20 reported 628 new cases in central Hubei Province, considered the epicenter of the outbreak, and 45 cases elsewhere in the country.
The figures represented the lowest number of new cases there in nearly a month, including in Hubei Province, and the third daily decline in a row.
Meanwhile, China said its death toll hit 2,118 as 114 more people died.
More than 74,000 people have been infected in China and hundreds more in nearly 30 countries.
Iran reported two deaths, the first fatalities in the Middle East.
In Japan, two people who had been aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship — a man and woman in their 80s, have died.
Another two Russian nationals aboard the ship docked near Tokyo have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total number of Russians who have contracted the virus to three, the Russian Embassy in Japan said on February 20.
The Diamond Princess has the biggest concentration of coronavirus infections outside China.
Richard Brennan, regional emergency director at the World Health Organization, said China was making “tremendous progress in a short period of time,” but he said the crisis was not yet approaching the end.
“Trends are very encouraging, but we are not at a turning point yet,” Brennan told a Cairo news conference.
Chinese authorities have placed cities with more than 60 million total people in virtual lockdowns, with outgoing and ingoing transport stopped.
Other countries have set strict entry conditions on Chinese nationals and persons who have recently visited the country, moves that have angered Beijing as overreactions.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters