China's health authorities said Thursday the country has passed the peak of the novel-coronavirus outbreak, as it reported 15 additional infections on the mainland, a new low in daily new cases.
The statement by a National Health Commission spokesman came as the World Health Organization labeled the outbreak of the virus a pandemic, pointing to nearly 120,000 cases in over 110 countries with some 4,300 deaths.
Touting its epidemic control efforts as having "turned the tide," the Chinese government is now encouraging factories and businesses to resume work in lower-risk areas, including in worst-hit Hubei Province in central China.
But the government's unprecedented quarantine and lockdown measures have taken a severe toll on the world's second-largest economy, with various industries reporting biggest-ever monthly declines in sales and other business indicators.
Auto sales in China, the world's biggest automobile market, fell 79.1 percent in February, declining for a 20th straight month, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.
Meanwhile, the total number of airline passengers last month fell 84.5 percent from the same period last year, China's aviation regulators revealed Thursday during a press briefing.
The national tally of confirmed cases, which includes people who have recovered from the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 as well as those who have died from it, now stand at 80,793.
Of the newly confirmed cases, eight were in Hubei's capital, Wuhan, where the epidemic started, and six were confirmed in people coming from abroad, the commission said in its daily update.
There were 11 new deaths from COVID-19 in the 24 hours to the end of Wednesday, raising the nationwide toll to 3,169. Besides the 10 in Hubei, one fatality occurred in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.
Beijing, which the central government has made its highest priority after Wuhan in containing the virus, still faces a high risk of another outbreak as its nearly 7.5 million migrant workers have started to return to the capital from their prolonged Chinese New Year holidays.
This year, many Chinese cities have reportedly suspended the Qingming tomb sweeping festival, in early April, when many people who did not return home during the Lunar New Year do so to honor their ancestors.
In response to the WHO's declaration of a pandemic, the first ever caused by a coronavirus, the state-run Xinhua News Agency called for international cooperation while stressing that "China's experience in fighting the epidemic has set an example for the world," quoting a comment made last month by a WHO representative.