China reported its fewest new infections of coronavirus since January and its fewest deaths for a week, but the World Health Organization said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.
Apple Inc warned that its sales would suffer because of the epidemic, hurting both supply and demand, an announcement that cast a chill on global stock markets.
The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.
Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases – the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan. 30 – bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. The figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll had fallen below 100 since Feb. 11, bringing the overall toll to 1,868.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data “appears to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously”.
Outside China, there have been 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.
China says figures showing a slowdown in new cases in recent days are signs that aggressive steps it has taken to curb travel and commerce are slowing the spread of the disease beyond central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.
Epidemiologists say data needs to be treated with caution, and may fluctuate because of factors such as the resources available for testing.
“We can hope that the reports of falling numbers of new cases in China do show that the epidemic has peaked in Hubei province, but it is still too early to be sure,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.