Death toll in China's coronavirus epidemic jumps to over 1,500

Residents wearing face masks and pyjamas are seen on a street in Shanghai China as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus

Residents wearing face masks and pyjamas are seen on a street in Shanghai China as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus

People returning to Beijing will now have to isolate themselves either at home or in a concentrated area for medical observation, said a notice from the Chinese capital's prevention and control work group published by state media late Friday.

"Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under law", it said.

China reported 2,641 new virus cases Saturday as it escalates measures to contain the outbreak and reassure an anxious public.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases soared by more than 5,000 in a one-day span, officials in China said Friday - as they announced that more than 1,700 medical workers have been infected by the deadly bug.

On Friday, the Chinese government had highlighted the continued drop of coronavirus disease, officially termed by the World Health Organization as COVID-19, all over the country except in Hubei province.

Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

The National Health Commission disclosed a statistical error, however, saying it removed 108 deaths in Hubei that had been double-counted, but the nationwide toll still rose to 1,383 on Friday.

A top Chinese official, in an interview with Reuters, acknowledged that coronavirus was a huge challenge, but defended Beijing's management of the epidemic and lashed out at the "overreaction" of some countries.

China is struggling to get the world's second-largest economy going after the annual Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to prevent further contagion.

State Councillor Wang Yi, who also serves as China's foreign minister, said China had taken decisive measures, many going beyond global health regulations and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

Canteen lunches are banned in favour of boxed meals eaten at desks.

Meanwhile, Egypt has now confirmed the first coronavirus case in Africa.

The number, however, was nearly half those reported the previous day. One person has died in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

The death toll from the coronavirus is higher than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened almost 8,100 in China and Hong Kong.

Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin (曾益新) said that 1,716 health workers had been infected and six had died as of Tuesday, with the number of infected staff rising.

The Chinese carmakers' association said auto sales in China were likely to slide more than 10% in the first half of the year because of the epidemic.

But the epidemic has continued to spread across China and hundreds of cases have emerged in more than two dozen countries.

The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan's coast, where 218 infections have now been confirmed.

Yesterday, some of the passengers on the Diamond Princess were allowed to disembark - with priority for older passengers confined to windowless cabins - and complete their quarantine on shore.

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