China on Wednesday reported another drop in the number of new cases of a viral infection and 97 more deaths, pushing the total dead past 1,100 as postal services worldwide said delivery was being affected by the cancellation of many flights to China.
The National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases had been reported over the last 24 hours, declining for a second day. The total number of cases in mainland China reached 44,653, although many experts say a large number of others infected have gone uncounted.
The Chinese mail service, China Post, said it was disinfecting postal offices, processing centers and vehicles to ensure the virus doesn’t spread via the mail and to protect staff.
The World Health Organization has named the disease caused by the virus as COVID-19, avoiding any animal or geographic designation to avoid stigmatization and to show the illness comes from a new coronavirus discovered in 2019.
The illness was first reported in December and connected to a food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak has largely been concentrated.
Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said that while the virus outbreak in China may peak this month, the situation at the center of the crisis remains more challenging.
“We still need more time of hard working in Wuhan,” he said, describing the isolation of infected patients there a priority.
“We have to stop more people from being infected,” he said. “The problem of human-to-human transmission has not yet been resolved.”
Without enough facilities to handle the number of cases, Wuhan has been building prefabricated hospitals and converting a gym and other large spaces to house patients and try to isolate them from others.
China’s official media reported Tuesday that the top health officials in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, have been relieved of their duties. No reasons were given, although the province’s initial response was deemed slow and ineffective. Speculation that higher-level officials could be sacked has simmered, but doing so could spark political infighting and be a tacit admission of responsibility.
The virus outbreak has become the latest political challenge for the party and its leader, Xi Jinping, who despite accruing more political power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has struggled to handle crises on multiple fronts. These include a sharply slowing domestic economy, the trade war with the U.S. and pushback on China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies.
China is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to curb the spread of the virus. About 60 million people are under virtual quarantine and many others are still working at home.
Health officials called it a precautionary measure and sought to assuage fears of an epidemic, dismissing similarities to the SARS community outbreak at the Amoy Gardens housing estate in 2003.