China’s coronavirus outbreak may peak soon, a prominent Chinese expert said on Tuesday, as the death toll soared past 1, 000.
Worry have also risen about the true extent of economic disruption to the world’s second-largest economy.
Companies struggled to get back to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, while hundreds of Chinese firms said they would need loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat.
Layoffs also began, despite assurances by President Xi Jinping that widespread sackings would be avoided.
The government’s top medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, held out hope that the epidemic may peak in February and then plateau before easing.
Zhong, an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, told Reuters in an interview that “the peak time may be reached at the middle or late this month’’.
The number of new cases was already declining in some provinces, he added.
The National Health Commission said earlier another 108 people had died on Tuesday, a daily record, taking to 1, 016 the total of those killed in China.
All but five of the deaths were in the central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak.
There were 2, 478 new confirmed cases on the mainland by Monday, down from 3, 062 the previous day, bringing the total to 42, 638. It was the second time in two weeks that authorities recorded a daily drop in new cases.
Asian stock markets rallied as investors took comfort from the lower figures, even though some experts have warned it is too early to assume they represent a trend.
Underlining the danger, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, said the outbreak was very much an emergency for China but also posed a very grave threat for the rest of the world.