China announces biggest drop in new virus cases in nearly a month

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has for weeks insisted the low number of cases of COVID-19 outside the epicentre of the deadly outbreak in China's central Hubei province presented a "window of opportunity" to contain the global spread. Another 34 prisoners at Shilifeng Prison in the eastern Zhejiang province were also discovered to be infected, according to local officials. The death toll in China from the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic rose to 2,236 today (Feb 21) after 118 more people died.

Iran reported three additional coronavirus cases and two deaths, bringing the countrywide total cases to five.

Infections also almost doubled in South Korea to 204, making it the hardest-hit country outside China.

The coronavirus outbreak in China has not yet reached its peak, state television quoted a top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party as saying on Friday.

Tedros, asked whether sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program might hamper delivery of medical aid, said: "Emergency situations are excluded". No countries in the region reported new cases of COVID1-19.

"But we are not excluding that it might turn to be a different scenario like a U curve where the impact is somewhat longer", she said.

China yesterday reported an uptick in new cases of COVID-19, boosted by more than 200 people testing positive for the disease in two prisons outside of Hubei Province, at the center of the outbreak.

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Chinese health authorities said on Tuesday that an anti-malarial drug is effective in treating coronavirus patients.

Authorities said officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks had been fired and the government had sent a team to investigate the Shandong episode, media reported. While the apparent impact of those measures has instilled hope in some that there is still time to stop circulation of the virus, skeptics warn that disease levels in China could rebound when the country eases its movement restrictions and allows people to return to their jobs. That included a further 42 linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu, up from the 33 reported earlier in the day.

The mayor of Daegu - South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million - has advised residents to stay indoors.

Businesses in the province were set to reopen Friday.

Another centre of infection has been the Diamond Princess cruise ship held under quarantine in Japan since February 3.

Worldwide, there have been more than 76,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 2,200 deaths as of Friday morning - the vast majority of which are in China.

Meanwhile health officials in South Korea, one of the worst affected countries outside of mainland China, confirmed 204 cases of the virus-up by 48 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday. Provincial officials did not say when they had been diagnosed. Two prison officials were sacked for this incident.

  • Sonia Alvarado