China's death toll from the new coronavirus strain has now killed more people than the deadly SARS outbreak did in 2002 and 2003, as the country's Communist Party labeled the month-old epidemic as a "major test" and countries rushed to isolate the nation.
As of Tuesday morning local time in China, the new strain had claimed 425 lives as infectious disease experts said the outbreak is expected to become a pandemic, reports The New York Times.
For a pandemic to be declared, the disease must spread into an ongoing epidemic on at least two other continents, meaning restrictions may be too late.
"We don't see a pattern of decline, and that's a problem," Leon Poon, the division head of the public health laboratory sciences department at the University of Hong Kong, said. "There's no sign that it's getting better."
The Chinese government said that as of the latest reports, China has 20,438 cases confirmed. More than 160 cases, including 11 in the United States, have been confirmed in two dozen countries.
In comparison, during the SARS epidemic, China had 349 deaths and 5,327 cases, according to World Health Organization statistics.
As the disease grows, China's stock market is also being slammed and global oil prices have been depressed, while Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday called for all officials to make reducing deaths and infections a top priority.
According to Xinhua, China's official news agency, Xi presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party members, where they admitted shortcomings in national health and emergency policies.
The publication quoted Xi as threatening punishment for officials who "lack boldness" and resist orders, meaning that some regions may have not obeyed orders for measures to stop the deadly disease's spread.
The death toll may have already reached even higher numbers. Residents in Wuhan, where the outbreak began say that many of the ill have been turned away from hospitals that are too full, and they are hearing that people are dying in their homes, where they are not being counted.
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