CHINA HEALTH CORONAVIRUS EPIDEMIC
China has reported its lowest daily number of new coronavirus cases since late January, lending credence to a prediction from the country's senior medical adviser that the outbreak could be over by April.
Global markets took heart from the outlook but international experts remain alarmed by the spread of the flu-like virus which has now killed more than 1100 people, all but two in mainland China.
China's foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, says the numbers of new cases are falling in some provinces and forecasts the epidemic will peak this month.
"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April," Zhong, an epidemiologist whose previous forecast of an earlier peak turned out to be premature, said on Tuesday.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in China have now hit 44,653 including 2015 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, the lowest daily rise since January 30.
China last week amended its guidelines on prevention and control of the coronavirus, saying that only when asymptomatic cases show clinical signs should they be recorded as confirmed.
However it is not clear if the government data previously included asymptomatic cases.
The number killed on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.
While Chinese officials said the situation was under control, the World Health Organization warned the epidemic posed a global threat potentially worse than terrorism.
The world must "wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away.
Asked about Zhong's prediction, Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said: "I think it's far too premature to say that".
"I think we've just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions," he told the ABC while praising China's "Herculean efforts".
Hundreds of cases have been reported in dozens of countries and territories around the world, including one fatality in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
The biggest cluster of cases outside of China was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama with about 3700 people aboard.
Japanese officials on Wednesday said another 39 people had tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 175.
Thailand said it was barring passengers from another cruise ship, MS Westerdam, from disembarking, the latest country to turn it away amid fears of the coronavirus despite no confirmed infections on board.
The government of Hubei, the province at the outbreak's epicentre, dismissed the provincial health commission's Communist Party boss, state media said on Tuesday, amid mounting public anger.
China's censors had allowed criticism of local officials but have begun cracking down on reporting of the outbreak, issuing reprimands to tech firms that gave free rein to online speech.
The pathogen has been officially named COVID-19 - CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged. The virus emerged from an illegal wildlife market in Hubei's capital Wuhan in December.
The city of 11 million people remains under virtual lockdown and other Chinese cities resemble ghost towns due to travel restrictions which have paralysed the world's second-biggest economy.