The number of people infected with the deadly new coronavirus is set to overtake the worldwide total of those that were affected by Sars, as the World Health Organization prepares to discuss declaring a global emergency.
China’s central health authority revealed on Thursday that 170 people had died and more than 7,800 cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed. WHO said that 8,098 people were infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, in 2002-2003.
In addition to the 7,711 cases in China, around 100 infections have been confirmed outside the Chinese mainland, with cases in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Singapore all reaching double digits.
WHO experts will meet on Thursday in Geneva to consider declaring the outbreak an international emergency. The organisation said that 15 countries had confirmed cases as of Wednesday.
All 170 known deaths from the virus have been in China, mostly in central Hubei province, where the outbreak began. Around 50m people in the province have been quarantined by a shutdown of rail, road and air links.
By Thursday, the virus had spread to every province in China, including the first confirmed case in politically and geographically isolated Tibet.
Beijing has responded with radical measures to tackle the outbreak, pledging to build hospitals in record time and flying in doctors from across the country. But officials, especially those in Hubei, have faced anger over delays in notifying the public about the virus. Hospitals in the province have been overwhelmed and some residents have struggled to access medical care.
A special committee set up by the Chinese Communist party to handle the outbreak warned on Wednesday that the virus was still spreading. It called for greater prevention measures after one of the country’s leading respiratory disease experts predicted the spread of the disease would peak within one to two weeks.
Some of China’s largest industrial and manufacturing hubs, including Shanghai, Zhejiang, Chongqing and Guangdong, have told non-essential businesses to remain on holiday for a further week until February 10, sending shockwaves through the global economy.
Airlines, automakers and companies dependent on travel and tourism are expected to be among the worst hit global businesses. Economists have warned of blows to China’s growth as Beijing grapples with the slowest expansion of gross domestic product in decades.
British Airways on Wednesday suspended flights to and from mainland China and Starbucks and Uniqlo have shuttered stores in the country. Honda, Nissan, PSA and Renault have started flying out non-Chinese workers.
Japan and the US have begun evacuations of foreign nationals from the city of Wuhan, the heart of the outbreak, despite China’s foreign ministry saying that such measures were not necessary.
Three of the 206 Japanese evacuees who returned home from Wuhan on Wednesday tested positive for the virus, according to Japan’s health ministry, although two of them showed no symptoms.
The news came as Japan confirmed a new case of domestic transmission: a woman in her 40s who worked as a tour guide for several groups of visitors from Wuhan.
Additional reporting by Robin Harding in Tokyo