The number of new cases of the coronavirus in China dropped for a second straight day, health officials said in a possible glimmer of hope amid the outbreak that has infected over 45,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,100.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said it is "way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end" of the crisis in China. But he said: "The stabilisation in cases in the last number of days is very reassuring and it is to a great extent the result of the huge public health operation in China."
China has locked down an unprecedented 60 million people in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, which has hit hardest in the city of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
The country's National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases were counted on Tuesday, the second straight daily decline and down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim but "we have seen some positive changes."
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that the numbers "must be interpreted with extreme caution," adding: "This outbreak could still go in any direction." At the same time, he noted that the number of other countries reporting cases - about two dozen - has not changed since Feb. 4.
All but one of the deaths recorded so far have been in China, as have more than 99 per cent of all reported infections in the world.
"In principle at the moment, there's no evidence out there that this virus is out there causing efficient community transmission in other countries," Ryan said. "We have a window of opportunity to shut this virus down."
At the end of a two-day meeting aimed at speeding the development of new tests, drugs and vaccines for the new virus, WHO said scientists had agreed upon a set of global research priorities but warned it could still take considerable time before any licensed products might be available.
In other developments, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised tax cuts and other aid to industry as the ruling Communist Party tries to limit the mounting damage to the economy.
The country is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to keep people home and contain the virus. Traffic remained light in Beijing, and many people were still working at home.
Companies are facing increasing losses because of the closing of factories, offices, shops and other businesses in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.
Meanwhile, organisers of the world's biggest mobile technology fair - the annual Mobile World Congress show, set for February 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain - cancelled the event because of worries about the viral outbreak.
© AP 2020