More people have died from the Wuhan coronavirus than the 2003 SARS epidemic

The death count now includes the first known American, who died in Wuhan this week.
The death count now includes the first known American, who died in Wuhan this week.
Image: REUTERS/Adriano Machado
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The death toll from the novel coronavirus has surpassed that of the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Fatalities from the Wuhan virus climbed past 800 today (Feb. 9), officially topping the 774 deaths attributed to SARS, as millions of people in China prepare to get back to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday. The overwhelming majority of those deaths, 780, have occurred in China’s Hubei province—home to the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak—and all but two have been in mainland China.

The first known death from the coronavirus outside of China was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan who died in the Philippines and was thought to have had other preexisting health conditions. A 39-year-old man with an underlying health condition also died in Hong Kong.

A 60-year-old American woman who died at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan on Feb. 6 was the first confirmed non-Chinese death from the illness, the US Embassy said. A Japanese national in Wuhan, a man in his 60s, is also thought to have died from the coronavirus, though the local hospital he was taken to on Jan. 22 couldn’t confirm the cause of death.

The number of people infected with the Wuhan virus globally surpassed that of SARS (8,098) last month. More than 37,000 people worldwide are now thought to have been infected, most of them in mainland China. It’s still too soon to say how deadly the virus is.

Last week Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who warned in December of a cluster of severe pneumonia cases and was criticized by Wuhan authorities, died of coronavirus. Li’s death fanned public anger toward government officials over their handling over the health crisis, and their early attempts to suppress information about the virus rather than telling the public what precautions to take.

Chinese authorities told businesses to add up to 10 days to the Lunar New Year break, and many schools and workplaces will remain closed this week. Tech giant Tencent Holdings is asking staff to work from home until Feb. 21. Nikkei Business Daily had reported that China blocked plans for Apple supplier Foxconn to resume production in China on Monday, a potential major supply chain disruption. Local authorities later denied that report, saying health checks were ongoing and production would resume once they were completed.

Update, Feb. 9: This story was updated to include a response on the Foxconn situation from local Chinese authorities.