China virus toll hits record

New coronavirus cases have again risen in China, after an earlier sign that infections were falling.
New coronavirus cases have again risen in China, after an earlier sign that infections were falling.

Workers have begun trickling back to offices and factories around China as the government eases work restrictions during the coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 900 people.

Sunday's death toll of 97 was the largest in a single day since the outbreak was detected in December and linked to a market selling animals in Hubei province's capital, Wuhan.

Stocks and oil fell while safe-haven gold rose as the death toll from the outbreak surpassed that of another coronavirus, which brought a global epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002/2003.

A team of experts headed by the World Health Organization was flying into Beijing on Monday to help assess the outbreak.

The epidemic has caused huge disruptions in China with usually teeming cities becoming ghost towns as Communist Party rulers ordered lockdowns, cancelled flights and closed factories and schools.

Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces remain closed and many white-collar workers were working from home.

On one of the usually busiest subway lines in Beijing, trains were largely empty. The few commuters seen during peak-hour morning traffic were all wearing masks.

Jin Yang, who works for a department under China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, rode a bicycle to work instead of public transport.

Staff were told to wear masks, avoid face-to-face meetings and the canteen was closed, he said.

Another insurance company employee surnamed Chen said he had been forbidden from taking public transport.

"My home is in Huairou district which is far from downtown," he said. "I usually take subways but this morning it cost me 200 yuan one way by cab."

Hubei, the province hit hardest by the outbreak, remains in virtual lockdown, with train stations and airports shut and roads sealed off.

Some restrictions on people entering and leaving residential compounds are in place in many other cities and schools in many regions will be shut until the end of February.

Across mainland China, there were 3062 new confirmed infections on Sunday, bringing the total number to 40,171, according to the National Health Commission, with 908 dead.

The extended closure of factories in the world's second-largest economy has raised concerns for global supply chains.

China's central bank has taken a raft of steps to support the economy, including reducing interest rates and flushing the market with liquidity.

From Monday, it will provide special funds for banks to re-lend to businesses combating the virus.

Tesla, Daimler and Ford Motor are among carmakers that will restart production on Monday.

Samsung Electronics resumed production at its home appliance factory in China, while it continues to run its chip factory in China, a spokeswoman said.

The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on January 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province.

It took nearly two weeks to get the government's green light on the composition of its advance team of experts, which left Geneva on Sunday.

Over the weekend, an American hospitalised in the central city of Wuhan became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.

The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and territories, infecting more than 330 people.

Australian Associated Press