The director of a Chinese hospital at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak became one of its victims Tuesday despite “all-out” efforts to save his life, Chinese health officials said.
The death came the same day Chinese officials released data indicating the new virus could be 20 times more lethal than the flu.
Liu Zhiming, president of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital in Hubei province, died of coronavirus-related pneumonia, China Daily reported. The hospital, one of the seven designated for the epidemic in Wuhan, treated thousands of people a day.
Liu, 51, was a leading figure in neurosurgery, the newspaper said. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said Liu made “important contributions in the work of fighting and controlling” the virus, known as COVID-19.
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“Unfortunately he became infected and passed away at 10:54 Tuesday morning after all-out efforts to save him failed,” the commission said.
The global death toll from the virus is at 2,009 as of Tuesday evening. All but a handful of global virus-related deaths have been in mainland China.
Total infections rose Tuesday to more than 75,000, all but a few hundred in mainland China.
Study: Virus far more lethal than flu
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention put the overall death rate for the virus at 2.3%. The season’s flu death rate in the U.S. thus far is about 0.1%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the coronavirus death rate is far below that of severe acute respiratory syndrome – SARS – a coronavirus that swept across China almost two decades ago. The SARS death rate was almost 10%, although fewer than 10,000 SARS cases were ever confirmed.
The Middle East respiratory syndrome is even more lethal: Since 2012, about 2,500 MERS cases in 27 countries have killed more than 850 people, or about one in three of those infected.
Michael Ryan, emergency programs director for the World Health Organization, said Tuesday that the new virus death rate could turn out to be lower than it appears. In the first weeks of the outbreak only severe cases were recognized, he noted.
“Now we are going out and looking for less-sick people,” Ryan said. “Our hope is that as we find more and more milder cases, that the overall mortality rate will be less.”
The Chinese study also found that more than 80% of the cases have been mild, the sick and elderly are most at risk, and men are more likely to die than women. The report suggests the outbreak peaked in late January.
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Shortages of crucial medical supplies possible
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration said it has pulled inspectors from China because of virus concerns and warns that the nation might face shortages of “critical medical products” if the outbreak persists. The federal agency halted inspections of drug and device factories after the State Department warned against travel to China. The FDA has faced congressional scrutiny for its oversight of overseas factories after high-profile recalls of blood-pressure-lowering medications and reports revealing fewer overseas inspections in recent years.
Cruise ship cases exceed 500
In Japan, coronavirus continued to sweep through the Princess Cruises ship Diamond Princess, docked and quarantined at the port in Yokohama. As of Tuesday, 542 cases of the virus had been identified among the 3,711 passengers and crew.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, has said the quarantine on the ship “failed.”
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Contributing: Ryan Miller, Ken Alltucker and Julia Thompson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press