Beijing Sees ‘Major Test’ as Doors to China Close and Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS


China’s Communist Party leadership called the month-old coronavirus epidemic a “major test” on Monday as other nations escalated efforts to isolate China, unnerving China’s stock market, depressing global oil prices and raising new anxiety about the world’s most populous country.

The growing global move to effectively cut off China’s 1.4 billion people came as government officials reported the new coronavirus strain had killed more in mainland China than the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, confirming it as one of the deadliest epidemics in recent Chinese history.

Many leading infectious disease experts say the outbreak is likely to become a pandemic, defined as an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents, and that stringent anti-contagion restrictions may have come too late.

“There’s no sign that it’s getting better,” said Leo Poon, division head of the public health laboratory sciences department at the University of Hong Kong. “We don’t see a pattern of decline, and that’s a problem.”

With the official count of the dead rising to 361, President Xi Jinping of China called on Monday for all officials to make reducing the number of infections and deaths a top priority.

Mr. Xi presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders at which they acknowledged shortcomings in policies on public health and emergency management, according to a report by China’s official news agency. The leaders called the coronavirus epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

Xinhua quoted Mr. Xi as saying that officials who resist orders and “lack boldness” could be punished — suggesting that at least some regions in China may have balked at devoting resources and personnel to stopping the contagion.

China had 17,205 confirmed infections as of Sunday, and more than 160 cases have been diagnosed in two dozen other countries, including 11 in the United States. During the SARS outbreak, China had 349 deaths and 5,327 cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Government figures show that confirmed coronavirus infections are surging by more than 2,000 daily.

Some deaths still go unreported, and many residents in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in central Hubei Province, say they believe the true number of deaths across China may be higher than the official tally, because many of the ill have been turned away by overstretched hospitals. Several residents said they had heard of people dying at home.

With the C.D.C. already running through its allocations for emergency response funds, the Department of Health and Human Services informed Congress that it may transfer up to $136 million to help combat the spread of coronavirus, according to a person with knowledge of the notification.

It was unclear whether the daily surge in infections is at least partly a result of more test kits being delivered, making it hard to determine how fast the virus is spreading. But even as the death toll has risen, the number of people who have recovered has also climbed in recent days, suggesting that the fatality rate of the virus is relatively low.

Reporting was contributed Austin Ramzy, Alexandra Stevenson, Steven Lee Myers, Chris Buckley, Amy Qin, Anton Troianovski, Paul Mozur, Vivian Wang, Emily Cochrane, Tess Felder, Jason Gutierrez, Stanley Reed, Richard Pérez-Peña and Rick Gladstone.



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