China on Wednesday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases since late January, lending credence to a prediction from the country’s senior medical adviser that the outbreak could be over by April.
International experts, however, remain alarmed by the spread of the flu-like virus which has now killed more than 1,100 people, all but two in mainland China.
China’s foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said on Tuesday numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” Zhong, an epidemiologist whose previous forecast of an earlier peak turned out to be premature, told Reuters.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in China have now hit 44,653, according to Chinese health officials, including 2,015 new confirmed cases on Feb. 11. That was the lowest daily rise in new cases since Jan. 30.
China last week amended its guidelines on prevention and control of the coronavirus, saying that only when asymptomatic cases show clinical signs should they be recorded as a confirmed case. However, it is not clear if the government data previously included asymptomatic cases.
The number killed on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.
While Chinese health officials said the situation was under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the epidemic posed a global threat potentially worse than terrorism.
The world must “wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away.
Asked about Zhong’s prediction, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said: “I think it’s far too premature to say that”.
“I think we’ve just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday, while praising China’s “Herculean efforts” to contain the virus.
Hundreds of cases have been reported in dozens of countries and territories around the world, including one fatality in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
The biggest cluster of cases outside of China was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama with about 3,700 people on board. Japanese officials on Wednesday said another 39 people had tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 175.
Thailand said it was barring passengers from another cruise ship, MS Westerdam, from disembarking, the latest country to turn it away amid fears of the coronavirus despite no confirmed infections on board.