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Death toll in Coronavirus climbs to 1,665

Experts advise people to be careful as cases on Japan ship rise to 355, total number of confirmed cases jump to 68,500 globally

Beijing: The death toll from China's coronavirus epidemic has climbed to 1,665 after 142 more people died, mostly in the worst-hit Hubei Province, and the confirmed cases jumped to 68,500, officials said on Sunday, as top WHO experts scramble to assist Beijing contain the virus spread.

China'sNational Health Commission confirmed 2,009 new cases across the country.

Hubei and its provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, reported 1,843 of the new cases. The latest report brought the total confirmed cases in Hubei to 56,249 cases.

Of the new deaths, 139 were in Hubei, two in Sichuan, and one in Hunan, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The number of new cases, however, appears to have started dropping and a top Chinese health official has said efforts to control the outbreak have reached the most crucial stage".

The report said 9,419 infected patients had been discharged from hospital after recovery so far.

The coronavirus has posed a severe threat to the medical staff as more than 1,700 Chinese health officials have been infected by the virus while treating the patients and six of them have died.

Experts from the World Health Organisation are expected in Beijing on Sunday to join Chinese health authorities in containing the virus, which has spread to several other countries forcing them to temporarily stop tourist arrivals from China.

The health commission said a joint mission with WHO experts will pay field visits to China's three provincial-level regions to learn the effectiveness of the epidemic control measures.

One task of the mission will be to come up with standard medicine to cure the disease, according to the health commission.

Several antiviral drugs are under clinical trials and Chinese researchers have narrowed down their focus to a few existing drugs, including Chloroquine Phosphate, Favipiravir and Remdesivir, said Zhang Xinmin, director of the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development.

Experts have asked people to frequently wash hands and face, and wear masks.

Authorities have begun quarantining large quantity of bank notes and coins in the affected areas and sanitising them with UV light before releasing them back into circulation to stop the virus from spreading.

Meanwhile, The number of people infected with the deadly new coronavirus on a quarantined ship off Japan has risen to 355, the country's health minister said on Sunday, as the United States, Canada and Hong Kong prepare to repatriate their residents on board.

The figure is a jump of 70 cases from a government tally released Saturday and comes as Katsunobu Kato voiced worries that the rising infection count among the nation's general population could mean the virus's spread has entered a new phase.

"So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive," Kato told a roundtable discussion for public broadcaster NHK on conditions aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The vessel has been in quarantine since February 5 at the port of Yokohama near Tokyo and Japan's efforts to control the viral infections on board have prompted international concern.

The ship was carrying more than 3,700 passengers and crew from more than 50 countries and territories when it docked and was placed in isolation, after authorities found a passenger who got off in Hong Kong during the voyage had tested positive for the virus.

Japanese officials continued to find new infections among the passengers and crew and rushed them to local hospitals, while others have been told to stay inside their cabins during the 14-day quarantine period set to end

Wednesday.

The US was preparing Sunday to evacuate some of its citizens but said those repatriated will go through another two-week quarantine period at home.

"Based on the high number of COVID-19 cases identified on board the Diamond Princess, the Department of Health and Human Services made an assessment that passengers and crew members on board are at high risk of exposure," the US embassy said in a letter to its citizens on the boat.

Hong Kong has also said it will offer its 330 city residents on board the chance to take a charter flight back.

Canada announced a similar decision to repatriate its nationals.

Japan has not been able to test all those on board due to limited supplies of testing kits, facilities and manpower, which are also needed by authorities tracking the spread of the virus on land.

But the health ministry said Saturday that passengers older than 70 are being examined and those testing negative and in good health will be allowed to leave the ship from Wednesday.

Tests on younger passengers were expected to start Sunday and healthy people will be allowed to get off after Wednesday, it said.

Meanwhile, Japan has seen 53 infections across the nation, including a dozen new cases reported on Saturday and 13 cases among more than 760 Japanese nationals and their relatives repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Two more Indians on board a quarantined cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the novel coronavirus even as India assured that it will provide all possible assistance to its nationals on the ship to return home after they test negative in the final coronavirus tests that would begin on Monday, the Indian Embassy said on Sunday.

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