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WHO Chief Cautiously Optimistic About Reported Drop in New Cases of Coronavirus

FILE - World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference to discuss the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 30, 2020.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday he was encouraged by China’s latest statistics that show the number of new cases of the coronavirus are continuing to decline but cautioned that efforts to combat the virus must remain relentless.“

“We’re encouraged by this trend, but this is no time for complacency,” Ghebreyesus said in Geneva at WHO’s daily briefing on the virus.

China reported its biggest drop in new cases of the new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 people on the mainland since the outbreak began more than two months ago.

The country's National Health Commission said there were just 394 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) Wednesday, compared to the 1,749 cases the previous day, the biggest drop since last month. The death toll rose to 2,118 after another 114 people died from the virus, while the total number of confirmed cases rose to 74,576.

Tedros said most cases of the virus outside of China are still comparatively low, but warned, “That may not stay the same for very long.”

He said WHO is conducting two clinical trials to treat the deadly virus and expects “preliminary results in three weeks.”

Chinese authorities have struggled to contain the spread of the new coronavirus since it was first detected in December in Hubei province, in the city of Wuhan. The province was placed under lockdown, with nearly all transportation in and out of Wuhan and several other cities stopped.

The global fight against the virus has intensified in Daegu, South Korea, a city of 2.5 million residents who were urged to remain indoors and continue to wear masks while inside. Thirty-five new cases were reported Thursday in Daegu and in nearby towns.

Elsewhere outside of mainland China, at least 11 people have reportedly died from the virus, including one in South Korea, two people in Iran and an elderly couple in their 80s who were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which been quarantined at the Japanese port city of Yokohama since its arrival on Feb. 3. Japanese health officials placed the ship and its 3,700 passengers and crew under quarantine after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the coronavirus. But the attempt to contain the spread of the virus backfired, as 621 people aboard the ship became infected, making it the largest cluster of confirmed cases outside of China.

About 600 passengers are expected to leave the ship Thursday, a day after 500 passengers disembarked Wednesday after testing negative for the virus and showing no symptoms. Meanwhile, more than 150 Australian passengers arrived in Darwin early Thursday after being evacuated from Yokohama. The group was immediately placed in another 14-day quarantine. Canberra extended a ban on foreign nationals who have traveled mainland China from entering Australia until February 29.

About 300 American passengers who were evacuated Monday were also placed in another 14-day quarantine upon arriving in the United States.

Despite the drop in the daily number of confirmed cases, WHO cautioned people earlier this week against relaxing and believing the worst is over. The WHO said it is still too early to predict exactly which way the outbreak will go.

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