Beijing (AFP) - The new cases of coronavirus contamination announced by the authorities in China decreased markedly on Thursday, and the World Health Organization hailed the "enormous progress" to curb the epidemic whose toll exceeds 2,100 deaths.
A total of 108 additional deaths were reported Thursday in Hubei province, where the Covid-19 epidemic started in December.
But only 615 new cases of contamination have been recorded, down sharply from the 1,693 reported on Wednesday, according to the provincial health authorities, which have also revised downwards, without specifying why, the number of cases declared in previous days.
In Japan, about 500 passengers disembarked Wednesday from the liner Diamond Princess, in quarantine in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.
Japanese authorities announced Wednesday evening that they had identified 79 new carriers of the coronavirus on board. With at least 621 cases, the cruise ship is the largest focus of the virus outside of China.
Passengers without symptoms, whose tests were negative and who had no contact with people carrying the virus, disembarked after 14 days of quarantine in Japan.
"I am relieved (...) I want to rest," said a 77-year-old Japanese to journalists.
Those authorized to go out received an official certificate stating that they presented "no risk of infection with the new coronavirus", nor symptoms at the time of the inspection.
Some in Japan are concerned, however, that the passengers of the ship are scattered in the wild or departing for their respective countries.
The dozens of new cases seen on board each day raised questions about the effectiveness of quarantine during which passengers were allowed to walk in small groups on the deck with masks, while flight attendants went from cabin in cabin to distribute meals.
Several countries, including the United Kingdom, have decided to send planes to repatriate their nationals without further delay. As for the crew, they will enter quarantine once the last passenger has left.
- Russia closed to the Chinese -
The concern over the virus also affects Russia, where no Chinese national can enter from Thursday, the culmination of health measures taken against the epidemic, despite the economic cost for tourism and border regions.
Officially, Russia has not had any patients with the new coronavirus on its territory since the discharge from hospital last week of the only two patients, Chinese nationals. Moscow had already closed its 4,250 km border with China, cut passenger rail links and restricted the number of flights to Chinese cities.
In Ukraine, dozens of people protested Wednesday against the planned arrival in the country on Thursday of a plane carrying 48 Ukrainians and 29 third-country nationals from Wuhan. Protesters blocked a road to a hospital in Vynnyky, in the west of the country.
France for its part sent to Wuhan a new plane to repatriate "a few dozen" of its nationals, announced the Ministry of Health.
In mainland China, the death toll surpassed 2,100 on Thursday, with more than 74,500 people infected. The semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong saw a second death, and Iran announced two deaths.
- "Huge progress" -
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed Wednesday in Cairo the "enormous progress" made in the management of the epidemic.
"We have made huge progress in a short time," said director of emergency measures in the eastern Mediterranean, Richard Brennan, at a press conference by the WHO regional office in Egypt.
"We are able to diagnose the virus everywhere now" and "effective health systems" have been put in place, welcomed his side the WHO regional director Ahmed al-Mandhari. However, it is "too early to say that the virus has been contained," said Dr. Brennan.
This optimism has won the main world stock exchanges, which ended up on Wednesday. "I don't think coronavirus is still an important topic. We can see that the number of new cases is decreasing. The worst is probably over," said analyst Maris Ogg, of Tower Bridge Advisors.
China gave three days on Wednesday to three Wall Street Journal reporters to leave the country in retaliation for a racist headline in the American daily. Beijing has very badly taken a tribune published on February 3, titled: "China is the real sick man of Asia". This expulsion was immediately condemned by Washington.