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More than 80% of virus cases have been mild, says new Chinese health report

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Health officials in China have published the first details on nearly 45,000 cases of the novel coronavirus disease that originated there, saying more than 80% have been mild and new ones seem to be falling since early this month, although it’s far too soon to tell whether the outbreak has peaked.

Monday’s report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention gives the World Health Organization a “clearer picture of the outbreak, how it’s developing and where it’s headed,” WHO’s director-general said at a news conference.

“It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The new disease, called COVID-19, first emerged in late December in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, and has spread to more than two dozen other countries. China says more than 70,000 people have been infected and 1,770 have died in mainland China, but numbers are squishy because the country is counting many cases based on symptoms rather than the methods WHO uses.

The new study reports on 44,672 cases confirmed in China as of Feb. 11. The virus caused severe disease such as pneumonia in 14% of them and critical illness in 5%.

The fatality rate for these confirmed cases is 2.3% — 2.8% for males versus 1.7% for females.

That’s lower than for SARS and MERS, two similar viruses, but COVID-19 ultimately could prove more deadly if it spreads to far more people than the others did. Ordinary flu has a fatality rate of 0.1% yet kills hundreds of thousands because it infects millions each year.

The COVID-19 cases include relatively few children, and the risk of death rises with age. It’s higher among those with other health problems — more than 10% for those with heart disease, for example, and higher among those in Hubei province versus elsewhere in China.

Cases seem to have been declining since Feb. 1, but that could change as people return to work and school after the Chinese holidays, the report warns.

Also Monday, Chinese officials said they may postpone the country’s annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year. The standing committee for the National People’s Congress said it believes it is necessary to postpone the gathering to give top priority to people’s lives, safety and health, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The standing committee said it would meet Feb. 24 to deliberate on a postponement. The meeting is due to start March 5.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed 99 more people were infected by the new virus aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454. The Health Ministry said it has now tested 1,723 people on the ship, which had about 3,700 passengers and crew aboard. Outside China, the ship has the largest number of cases of COVID-19.

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