The death toll in an outbreak of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus has exceeded 1,000 in China, the country's health authorities said Tuesday.
In the central province of Hubei, which has been at the center of the epidemic, 103 new deaths and 2,097 new infections were reported, bringing the totals across the mainland to 1,016 and over 42,000, respectively. The total number of suspected cases stands at 21,675.
The virus, first detected late last year in Wuhan, the capital city of the province, has already killed more people than the 2002-2003 SARS coronavirus pandemic that sickened 8,098 and claimed the lives of 774 globally.
But the fatality rate of around 2 percent in the latest epidemic is lower than that of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which recorded about 10 percent.
According to Chinese media, two officials of the Hubei provincial health commission were dismissed on Monday. They appear to have been held responsible for the rapid spread of the infection in the central province.
According to the official Xinhua News Agency, Wang Hesheng, who was earlier this month appointed to the standing committee of the Communist Party of China's provincial-level committee, will take on both roles. He was vice minister of the National Health Commission before his transfer to Hubei.
On Monday, President Xi Jinping said the spread of infection must be firmly controlled, Xinhua reported. Xi said that cutting off the route of infection was a fundamental measure, and instructed him to make every effort to contain and treat infected people.
He spoke during an inspection tour of a Beijing hospital during which he donned a protective facemask in a rare public appearance since the crisis began.
Meanwhile, Wuhan now requires residents with symptoms to seek treatment at facilities in the district they live in.
In a bid to minimize the movement of people, the city has also started "sealed management" in all districts in the city, in which buildings with confirmed or suspected cases are placed under stricter watch.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Monday that 27 foreigners in the nation have been diagnosed with the new virus, including a U.S. citizen and a Japanese man in his 60s who both died late last week.
On the same day, a large number of companies and stores restarted operations in many parts of China after the end of the extended Lunar New Year holiday, amid lingering fears that more people could become infected as they come into contact with others.
Japanese automakers and other manufacturers operating in China also resumed work, with local authorities stepping up measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as checking the temperatures of all people who use public transportation and spraying antiseptic.
The weeklong holiday began on Jan. 24, but the Chinese government said on Jan. 27 this would be extended until Feb. 2 as the number of coronavirus cases multiplied. In addition, many businesses remained shut last week at the behest of local governments.
In Hong Kong, some 34 households in a public rental estate were ordered evacuated early Tuesday after two confirmed cases were found to be living there.
Wong Ka-hing of the Centre for Health Protection said that so far five residents in the building who had shown symptoms had tested negative to the virus.
The total of confirmed cases in the territory now stands at 49, with four of them in critical condition.