BEIJING (AP) — Mainland China’s death toll from the new virus outbreak has risen to 811, surpassing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic.
However, the number of new cases reported over the last 24 hours on Sunday fell significantly from the previous period, something experts see as a sign the spread of the virus may be slowing.
Another 89 deaths were reported, while 2,656 new cases were added for a total of 37,198. On Saturday, 3,399 cases were reported for the previous 24 hours.
SARS is widely considered to have killed 774 people and sickened 8,098, mainly in mainland China and Hong Kong. The response this time has been much quicker and countries around the world are enforcing stricter measures to contain the spread.
A 60-year-old American was among the new fatalities in Wuhan, the hardest-hit central Chinese city where the virus was first detected in December among people who had visited a food market where live wild animals were sold. He is apparently the first American death in the outbreak, while a Japanese citizen being treated in Wuhan who was a suspected case also died.
China’s ruling Communist Party faces continuing anger from the public over the death of a Wuhan doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease over a month ago.
On Saturday, Japan reported three more cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship for a total of 64 . There are 3,700 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess who must remain on board for 14 days.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said foreign passengers on another ship, Holland America’s Westerdam, won’t be allowed into Japan because of suspected virus patients on board. The ship, with more than 2,000 people, was near Okinawa and was seeking another port.
Hong Kong began enforcing a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from mainland China on Saturday. The territory has refused to completely seal its border but hopes the quarantine will dissuade travelers from the mainland.
China’s leaders are trying to keep food flowing to crowded cities despite anti-disease controls and to quell fears of possible shortages and price spikes following panic buying after most access to Wuhan and nearby cities was cut off.
Public anger continued to simmer over the authorities’ treatment of a young doctor who was reprimanded by police for issuing a warning about the virus before being infected and dying this week.
In death, 34-year-old Li Wenliang became the face of anger at the ruling Communist Party’s controls over information and complaints that officials lie about or hide disease outbreaks, chemical spills, dangerous consumer products or financial frauds.
The 34-year-old ophthalmologist died overnight at Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked and likely contracted the virus while treating patients in the early days of the outbreak.
Police in December had reprimanded eight doctors including Li for warning friends on social media about the emerging threat. China’s supreme court later criticized the police, but the ruling Communist Party has tightened its grip on information about the outbreak.
Users of China’s Weibo microblogging service have left hundreds of thousands of messages mourning Li’s death and criticizing the authorities over their treatment of him and other whistleblowers.
Following the criticism, the government announced a team from Beijing would be sent to Wuhan to investigate “issues reported by the masses involving Dr. Li Wenliang.”