Coronavirus deaths top 800, surpassing SARS

Passengers wearing masks walk outside the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 8, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

China raised the death toll from its coronavirus outbreak to 811 on Sunday, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic, as authorities made plans for millions of people returning to work after an extended Lunar New Year break.

China’s National Health Commission recorded another 89 deaths on Saturday, pushing the total well above the 774 who died from SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002/2003.

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 37,198, commission data showed. New infections recorded the first drop since Feb. 1, falling back below 3,000 to 2,656 cases. Of those, 2,147 cases were in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Many of China’s usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and shut schools.

Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces and schools will remain closed and many white-collar employees will work from home.

The scale of the potential hit to an economy that has been the engine of global growth in recent years has taken a toll on financial markets, as shares slumped and investors switched into safe-havens such as gold, bonds and the Japanese yen.

The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and regions, 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.