At least 3,012 people have now died nationwide in the outbreak that first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, in December.

A man wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus rides on a train in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2020
A man wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus rides on a train in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2020 (Reuters)

China on Thursday reported 31 more deaths from the new coronavirus epidemic, taking the country's overall toll past 3,000, with the number of new infections slightly increasing.

At least 3,012 people have now died nationwide in the outbreak that first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, in December.

Most of the deaths –– 2,305 –– and cases have been recorded in Wuhan, which has been under an unprecedented lockdown along with the rest of Hubei since late January.

But the quarantine and other travel restrictions across the country appear to be paying off, with official figures showing a generally steady drop in new cases in recent weeks.

The National Health Commission also reported 139 new cases on Thursday, slightly up from 119 the previous day, raising the overall number of confirmed infections to 80,409.

Only five of the new cases were outside Hubei.

But China is now worried about importing cases from abroad as the virus has since spread to some 80 countries and territories, infecting more than 10,000 and killing more than 200 abroad.

China allocates almost $16 bln in coronavirus related funding

Various Chinese government entities have allocated $16 billion (110.48 billion yuan) in coronavirus-related funding as of March 4, Vice Finance Minister Xu Hongcai said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Of that amount, about $10,29 billion (71.43 billion yuan) has been used, leaving $5,6 billion (39.05 billion yuan) to spend, Xu said.

China would ensure the smooth operation of local governments amid the coronavirus outbreak and that the finance ministry will ensure the funding needs of Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, Xu said.

He warned that the outbreak could temporarily affect the government's revenues but he expected the pressure on the government's fiscal position to ease as the economy recovered.

He added that Beijing would roll out targeted and phased measures to help virus-hit sectors, without elaborating.

China has said it would study phased tax cuts to help struggling small- and medium-sized firms facing difficulties because of the outbreak.

290 million students out of school 

Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home on Thursday with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus, as the IMF urged an all-out, global offensive against the epidemic.

More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.

As the virus spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with UNESCO saying on Wednesday that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localised closures.

While temporary school closures during crises are not new, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said, "the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education."

Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shuttered until March 15, ramping up its response seas the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China.

South Korea –– the country with the largest number of cases outside China –– has postponed the start of the current term until March 23.

In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April.

Some 120 schools closed in France this week in areas with the largest numbers of infections.

South Korea reports 438 new coronavirus cases

South Korea confirmed 438 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a slight decrease from the previous day, taking total infections to 5,766.

The Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention also said three more deaths from the virus were reported, bringing the total to 35.

Officials said hospitals in the hardest-hit areas were still struggling to accommodate the new patients.

The US military command in South Korea also reported two new cases, for a total of six cases in soldiers, employees or people related to the roughly 28,500 troops stationed in the country.

South Africa reports its first case

South Africa confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy, the health ministry announced.

It is the first case in southern Africa, and the latest confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Senegal.

"This morning,... the National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed that a suspected case of COVID-19 has tested positive," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

The case was detected in the country's eastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province.

The patient and his wife were part of a group of 10 people who arrived back in South Africa from Italy on March 1.

Two days later, on March 3, he consulted a private general practitioner with a fever, headache, sore throat and a cough.

Hungary, Slovenia report first cases

Hungary and Slovenia reported their first confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday in two Iranian students and a third patient who recently travelled back from Morocco via Italy.

"Two patients have been taken into medical care due to coronavirus infections," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a Facebook video message.

"Two foreigners, students studying in Hungary, Iranians, they are currently symptom-free it seems, but confirmed as infected," he said.

Dr Janos Szlavik at the Central Hospital of Southern Pest told reporters at a news conference that both patients had visited family in Iran recently and that their roommates were being taken into quarantine.

Authorities were making efforts to establish their travel history within Hungary and who they had been in contact with, Szlavik said.

In neighbouring Slovenia, Health Minister Ales Sabeder told reporters the country's first case involved a "patient, aged around 60 who returned from Morocco via Italy" a few days ago.

The patient had visited a family doctor before being tested and was currently in hospital in the capital Ljubljana, he added.

California declares emergency over coronavirus

The US death toll from coronavirus infections rose to 11 on Wednesday as new cases emerged around New York City and Los Angeles, while Seattle-area health officials sought to allay anxiety and discourage social gatherings amid the nation's largest outbreak.

The first California death from the virus was an elderly person in Placer County, near Sacramento, health officials said. The person had underlying health problems and likely had been exposed on a cruise ship voyage between San Francisco and Mexico last month.

It was the first coronavirus fatality in the United States outside of Washington state, where 10 people have died in a cluster of at least 39 infections that have emerged through community transmission of the virus in two Seattle-area counties.

Although the Placer County patient who died was not believed to have contracted the virus locally, that case and a previous one from the San Francisco Bay Area linked to the same ocean liner have led health authorities to seek other cruise passengers who may have had close contact with those two individuals.

Hours after the person's death was announced, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency in response to the coronavirus, which he said has resulted in 53 cases across the nation's most populous state.

"The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus," Newsom said in a statement.

Virus continues to spread outside China

While caseload s have steadily declined in the virus epicentre China, infections and deaths are rising in Asia and Europe, with cases appearing in new countries almost every day.

More than 90,000 people have been infected and around 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, the vast majority in China where Covid-19 first emerged late last year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic, though has said the world must prepare for the possibility.

The virus has reached over 80 countries and territories around the world, with South Korea, Iran and Italy emerging as hotspots outside China.

Source: AFP