Hong Kong (CNN)The death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached 1,873, as almost half of China’s 1.3 billion-strong population remain subject to varying forms of travel restrictions and other quarantine measures.
On Tuesday, Liu Zhiming, director of the Wuchang hospital in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, himself died of the virus, according to a statement released by local government authorities.
Liu was a neurosurgeon and is the first hospital director to die as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. His death could renew criticism that the government has not done enough to protect frontline medical workers, many of whom are overworked and overstretched. Also on Tuesday, state media reported that doctors and nurses who die while trying to contain the outbreak will officially be designated as “martyrs.”
All but five deaths from the virus have occurred inside mainland China, where an additional 98 fatal cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, were reported Tuesday morning. The number of confirmed cases in China increased by 1,886, bringing the global total to over 73,325.
The vast majority of those cases have been in China, but concern has been growing in the past week over much smaller but growing outbreaks in Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.
According to China’s National Health Commission, since the outbreak began in December, more than 12,500 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
Outside of Hubei, the province of which Wuhan is capital, the number of new cases has dropped for 14 consecutive days. Despite this apparent good news, stringent and often draconian measures are being ramped up in much of the country. This comes as authorities make an effort to return to something like normality in many major cities and commercial hubs, with the long break forced by the outbreak taking its toll on the country’s economy.
On Monday, a committee headed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that a “greater outbreak of the epidemic has been avoided through strengthened prevention and control measures,” adding that “a positive trend has emerged nationwide in curbing the epidemic.”
Despite the optimism expressed by Chinese officials and in state media, there are indications the authorities are not totally convinced of their success in reining in the virus.
According to analysis by CNN of Chinese government orders, some 780 million people are still living under some form of restrictive movement, including all of Hubei, the northeastern province of Liaoning, and China’s two most important cities, Beijing and Shanghai. Restrictions include everything from self-quarantines to limits on who can come and go from neighborhoods.
Some of the strictest measures can be found in four cities in Hubei province. The cities of Wuhan, Huanggang, Shiyan and Xiaogan have completely sealed off all residential complexes and communities. The use of non-essential vehicles on local roadways is also banned. Residents in each city receive daily necessities from neighborhood and community committees as they are not permitted to leave their homes.
In an almost unprecedented move, the central government announced late Monday that it was considering postponing its annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), a gathering of the the country’s nearly 3,000 national legislators, as it continues to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
The full session of the NPC, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, was due to open on March 5. Instead, the NPC Standing Committee, a smaller group of fewer than 200 people, will meet in the capital on February 24 to review a proposal to postpone the plenary session, according to Chinese state media.
While figures appear to be trending in a positive direction in China and some other countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that new data must be analyzed with some degree of caution.
“This trend must be interpreted very cautiously. Trends can change as new populations are affected. It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said during a press conference Monday.
Tedros added that the virus is not as deadly as SARS or MERS, both of which are related to the current coronavirus, and more than 80% of patients “have mild disease and will recover.”
“In about 14% of cases, the virus causes severe diseases including pneumonia and shortness of breath. And about 5% of patients have critical diseases including respiratory failure, septic shock and multiorgan failure,” he said. “In 2% of reported ca