By JOE McDONALD
BEIJING (AP) — China’s virus death toll reached a new high, at least 1,113 as of press time, passing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, but fewer new cases were reported in a possible sign its spread may be slowing as other nations stepped up efforts to block the disease.
Some 2,656 new virus cases were reported in the 24 hours ending at midnight on Feb. 8, most of them in the central province of Hubei, where the first patients fell sick in December. That was down by about 20% from the 3,399 new cases reported in the previous 24-hour period.
“That means the joint control mechanism of different regions and the strict prevention and control measures have worked,’’ a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said at a news conference.
Also, new cases were reported in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the U.K. and Spain. More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China.
“Dramatic reductions’’ in the pace of the disease’s spread should begin this month if containment works, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. He assisted the World Health Organization and Chinese authorities during the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Warmer weather will reduce the virus’s ability to spread and bring people out of enclosed spaces where it is transmitted more easily, Lipkin said in an online news conference. However, he said, if new cases spike as people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, then “we’ll know we’re in trouble.”