Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director-general, at a...

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director-general, at a news conference at its Geneva headquarters on Monday. Credit: EPA / Shutterstock / Salvatore Di Nolfi

The World Health Organization reported both encouraging and disheartening trends in the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, saying that while there were 70,635 cases reported in China — and 1,772 deaths — the virus seems to be spreading more slowly and may not be as deadly as once feared.

“As more data comes in from China, we are starting to see a clearer picture of the outbreak, how it’s developing and where it could be headed,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the United Nations' WHO, at a news conference in Geneva. “This data gives us a better understanding of the age range of people affected, the severity of the disease and the mortality rate.”

He said the trends are becoming more apparent based on a detailed survey of 44,000 cases in China. Citing day-old data, he said there were 2,051 new cases in China since Sunday and 694 cases from 25 other countries, which also reported three deaths.

By Monday evening, 72,436 cases had been reported in China along with 1,868 deaths, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier, Tedros spoke alongside Dr. Michael J. Ryan, executive director for WHO’s Health Emergencies Program and Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness.

The news conference took place as 14 coronavirus-infected Americans, who were among 328 Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan, arrived by plane in the United States, according to news reports.

"The infection prevention and countermeasures are very difficult to implement in a ship environment because there are a number of factors that are very difficult to put under control,” said Briand, adding that WHO is working with Japanese authorities and cruise ship officials to find a strategy that contains the virus and not the people. “It’s not specific for COVID-19.”

The new virus is now called COVID-19, according to the AP.

Tedros said new cases seem to be slowing down.

“The data also appear to show a decline in new cases,” he said. “This trend must be interpreted very cautiously. Trends can change as new populations are affected. It is too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table.”

He spoke less than two weeks after the WHO issued an urgent appeal for $675 million to help stem the outbreak of so-called COVID-19. At that time, on Feb. 5, Tedros said there were 24,363 confirmed infections in China and 490 deaths from coronavirus — a respiratory disease that was identified in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31 — and 3,925 new cases in a single day.

There were 191 cases reported in 24 other countries, and one death, at that time, UN officials said.

WHO also said at the news conference that COVID-19 appears to be less serious to human health than SARS Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which appeared in 2003, and MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which surfaced in 2012.

The latest data on COVID-19 showed the disease has proved fatal in as little as 2% of the cases, while for 80% of the cases the disease causes mild symptoms and for 14% it causes pneumonia and shortness of breath.

Another 5% of the patients, Tedros said, experience critical respiratory failure, septic shock or multi-organ failure.

Children, he said, tend to be the least likely victims of COVID-19, and most resistant to its effects.

“The risk of death increases the older you are,” he said. “We see relatively few cases among children. More research is needed to understand why. This new data addresses some of the gaps in our understanding but others remain.”

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