0 new domestic coronavirus cases in China for first time since epidemic began

People wear face masks as they walk in a street in Beijing as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, Feb 25, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

Mainland China has reported zero new domestic infections of coronavirus for the first time since the outbreak began.

The National Health Commission said it was also the first time Hubei province - where the disease first emerged - recorded no new cases either domestically or from abroad. Nationwide, there were 34 new infections, all of them from overseas.

The number of new deaths was down to single digits, with just eight reported, bringing the total death toll to 3,245. The commission said 23 new suspected cases had been reported, with the total number of infections now standing at 80,928. A total of 70,420 patients have recovered.

The commission has been releasing daily infections figures in Hubei since Jan 10, and nationwide data since January 20.

Elsewhere, infections from what is now a global pandemic continue to rise. Italy reported 3,526 new cases overnight, Germany 4,070 and Spain 4,719. The US also reported 1,875 new cases.

But critics have questioned the accuracy of the Chinese data, which has caused confusion in the past because of the often-changing diagnostic criteria.

Medical professionals in both China and abroad have also questioned whether Beijing covered up the epidemic - especially in its initial stage - after the first case in China was traced back to November, while Chinese doctors only realised they were dealing with a new disease in late December.

Despite the drop in infections, infectious diseases experts have called for caution.

Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said that without strong intervention the coronavirus would not be eliminated.

"I think many countries should take measures [based on] the intervention mechanism invented by China. Upstream control is an ancient way but effective," Zhong said in a press conference on Wednesday.

"The core points are the 'four earlys': Early prevention, early detection, early diagnosis, and early quarantine."

Global deaths from the deadly disease have reached 8,000, most of which are from China. More than 200,000 people have now been infected by the virus around the world.

The World Health Organisation has said that the epicentre of the pandemic has now moved to Europe, where cases in Italy and other countries on the continent have soared.

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"Now Europe is experiencing the first wave of outbreak. The number of confirmed cases will be still climbing. I suggest they take stronger measures to contain. They should test and quarantine the families and close contacts of infected people, don't wait for the symptoms to show up," Zhong said.

"I'm not saying (China's) way is the only way or the best way. The situation varies from country to country. China has paid a high price on the economy, to earn the health of people. Now the next task is resuming production."

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.