Workers in face masks dispense lunch outside of an office building in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. China reported a further fall in new virus cases to 889 on Friday as health officials expressed optimism over containment of the outbreak that has caused more than 2,200 deaths and is spreading elsewhere. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

China's leaders say nation yet to turn corner in virus fight

February 21, 2020 - 7:07 am

BEIJING (AP) — China's leadership sounded a cautious note Friday about the country's progress in halting the spread of the new virus that has now killed more than 2,200 people, after several days of upbeat messages.

The Politburo, made up of the senior officials of the ruling Communist Party, said the situation in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, remains grave.

“We should clearly see that the turning point of the development of the epidemic across the country hasn't arrived yet," the Politburo said at a meeting led by President Xi Jinping and reported by state broadcaster CCTV.

The 25-member body said the outbreak has been “preliminarily contained" and urged party committees and governments at all levels to carry out prevention and control work without any relaxation to “win the people's war against the epidemic.”

The National Heath Commission earlier reported 889 newly confirmed cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total in mainland China to 75,465. The death toll rose by 118 to 2,236. More than 1,000 cases and 14 deaths have been confirmed elsewhere, from Japan to France.

Newly reported infections in China have trended downward in recent days, though changes in how health authorities have counted cases have muddied the true trajectory of the epidemic.

“The overall situation is trending towards the better, and the outbreak is under control with zero increase in some provinces," said Zeng Yixin, vice director of National Health Commission. “In Hubei and Wuhan, however, newly reported deaths remain at a high level. We need to take that seriously.”

The outbreak began in Wuhan and has hit the city and the rest of Hubei province the hardest.

Officials have been sacked in Hubei and other areas after more than 500 cases were diagnosed in prisons, Justice Ministry official He Ping told reporters at a daily briefing.

He and other public security officials reiterated that legal measures would be brought against those defying demands to wear masks and take other containment measures.

People in China mourned the death of another doctor who had succumbed to the disease Thursday, according to an announcement from the district in which he worked in Wuhan. Peng Yinhua, a respiratory and intensive care physician, was infected last month while treating patients with the illness.

Chinese media reported that Peng was 29 years old, which would place him among the youngest to die from COVID-19, the name of the new illness. Most of the fatalities have been people aged 60 and over with underlying medical conditions, according to a report from China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A newspaper profile of Peng last month said he had postponed his wedding to help fight the epidemic, working day and night to accommodate the influx of patients.

He is at least the third doctor to die in China from the illness.

Hong Kong reported the first infection of a police officer in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The city has confirmed 69 cases of the virus, with two deaths.

The 48-year-old officer had been at a dinner Tuesday with 59 other police officers, who have been placed in quarantine, the force said on its Facebook page. It urged officers to pay attention to hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission.

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Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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