The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 2,118 as of the end of Wednesday, up by 114 from the previous day.

People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China on February 19, 2020.
People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China on February 19, 2020. (Reuters)

Mainland China had 394 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Wednesday, theNational Health Commission said on Thursday, down from 1,749 cases a day earlier and the lowest since Jan. 23. 

That brings the total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 74,576.

The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 108 new deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 88 people died. 

Earlier on Wednesday, The World Health Organization hailed "tremendous progress" in the fight against the deadly new coronavirus since it emerged in China in December.

"We are making tremendous progress in a short period of time ... trends are very encouraging but we are not at a turning point yet," said Richard Brennan, WHO's regional emergency director, at a press conference in Cairo.

Mainland China reported 1,749 new cases and 136 additional deaths. 

While the overall spread of the virus has been slowing, the situation remains severe in Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan. More than 80 percent of the country's 74,185 total cases are in Hubei and 95 percent of its 2,004 deaths, according to data from China's National Health Commission.

COVID-19 kills two in Iran

Two people have died in Iran after testing positive on Wednesday for the new coronavirus, the health ministry said, in the Islamic republic's first cases of the disease.

They are also the first deaths from the COVID-19 virus in the Middle East and only the seventh and eighth outside China where the outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people.

State news agency IRNA quoted Kianoush Jahanpour, a ministry spokesman, as saying the virus was detected in two elderly people with immunity problems in the holy city of Qom, south of the Iranian capital.

Egypt reports first case

Egypt's health ministry announced last week the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in Africa, a foreigner whose nationality was not revealed.

In a joint statement with Egypt's Ministry of Health and Population on Wednesday, the WHO noted that the person had shown a "negative" response upon further testing.

"After 48 hours of being admitted to the isolation unit in the hospital, further PCR tests revealed a negative result for the carrier of the COVID-19 virus who tested positive last Friday," the statement said.

It was not immediately clear why the patient tested negative in the latest polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, a widely used method to determine the presence of infectious agents.

A senior WHO official insisted to AFP on Wednesday that the negative results of the patient, who remains in quarantine, still do not make the continent free of the disease.

She said that other carriers of the disease could be present in other countries without necessarily being detected.

During the conference, WHO officials reiterated that even though the foreigner had not shown any symptoms of the virus, the person is still being monitored and has not been released.

John Jabbour, WHO's Egypt director, told AFP that "we are making sure that Africa is still free of the disease except for the case in Egypt".

Slamming misinformation on social media, Brennan noted "there is no evidence it (the virus) was produced in a lab or as a biological weapon".

In response to Chinese efforts to contain the virus, he said that Beijing "has really thrown its weight behind the outbreak" and that reports of concealing the severity of the disease are "frankly unwarranted".

Deep trade links with China and often overstretched healthcare systems have raised concerns about the capacity of African countries to respond to an outbreak.

Source: AFP