Wuhan closes makeshift hospital as new coronavirus cases in China drop sharply


BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus epidemic closed its first makeshift hospital, one of 16 hurriedly built to handle the epidemic, after it discharged the last recovered patients, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday.

News of the closure coincided with a sharp decline in new cases in Hubei province and the provincial capital Wuhan, but the country remained on alert as Chinese nationals returning home are testing positive for the virus.

China’s central Hubei province, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, reported less than 200 cases of new infections for the first time since January.

Hubei had 196 new confirmed cases on Sunday, the National Health Commission said on Monday, sharply down from 570 cases a day earlier and the lowest since Jan. 24.

The decline was driven by a fall in new cases in Wuhan, where the virus first appeared last December, which reported 193 new infections, the lowest since Jan. 26.

Mainland China had a total of 202 new confirmed cases, the lowest since Jan. 22. Excluding new infections in Hubei, there were only six new cases in mainland China, the lowest since last month. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,026.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 2,912 as of the end of Sunday, up by 42 from the previous day.

Hubei accounted for all of the 42 new deaths, while 32 people died in Wuhan.

In line with the falling number of new infections, Wuhan closed its first makeshift hospital after it discharged the last batch of 34 recovered patients, CCTV reported.

As of Feb. 28, Wuhan has created 16 temporary hospitals, adding 13,000 beds, with 12,000 people treated so far. Overall, the number of Wuhan hospital beds have risen from 5,000 to 23,000.

Eighteen provinces across China have so far lowered their coronavirus emergency response level in the past week, the latest being Zhejiang province which cut its emergency response measures to level II from level I, according to the provincial government’s official Weibo account on Monday.

China has a four-tier response system for public health emergencies that determines what measures it will implement, with level I the most serious.

President Xi Jinping warned on Sunday however that China needs to take a long-term view of the outbreak and plug loopholes in its laws and emergency response mechanisms, as Beijing reported two new cases of Chinese nationals recently returned from Iran, where coronavirus cases have multiplied quickly.

China’s Global Times also reported on Monday one imported case from Italy in Zhejiang province, though its local health commission said there were no other domestic confirmed cases reported in the province on March 1.

(The story refiles to correct paragraph 12 to fix the spelling of public)

Reporting by Ryan Woo, David Stanway, Se Young Lee and Emily Chow; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Michael Perry