The number of deaths from China's new coronavirus epidemic jumped to 811 on Sunday after the hard-hit Hubei province reported more than 80 new fatalities, Mainland China have reported.
The toll is now higher than the global number of deaths caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed 774 people in 2002-2003.
In the Hubei province alone, the epicentre of the latest outbreak, the death toll now is put at 780.
All but one of the overall total of 803 deaths have so far been in mainland China and Hong Kong.
In its daily update, Hubei's health commission also confirmed another 2,147 new cases in the central province, where the outbreak emerged in December.
There are now more than 36,690 confirmed cases across China.
The World Health Organisation said Saturday that the number of cases being reported daily in China is "stabilising" – but cautioned that it was too early to say if the virus has peaked.
"The numbers could go up again … but the last two days were showing a declining trend," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Earlier this week, however, scientific research predicted coronavirus cases in China will double every six days, with some experts suggesting it will never be contained.
The updated death toll comes as scientists on Friday found that diarrhoea may be a secondary path of transmission for the disease.
The primary path is believed to be virus-laden droplets from an infected person's cough, though researchers in early cases have said they focused heavily on patients with respiratory symptoms and may have overlooked those linked to the digestive tract.
The new virus is believed to have emerged last year in a market that sells wild animals in Hubei's capital Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, before spreading across the country.
On Thursday, a 60-year-old US citizen – the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the illness – died in Wuhan's Jinyintan Hospital.
A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said.
ANGER SIMMERS OVER DEATH OF DOCTOR THREATENED BY POLICE
News of the rising death toll comes as the public in Wuhan mourn the death of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who died on Friday in Wuhan Central Hospital after first noticing symptoms of the disease on January 10.
The death of the "heroic" doctor – who first sounded the warning about the coronavirus in Wuhan – has sparked an outpouring of fury and grief at Chinese authorities seen as trying to sensor the news.
The CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement that it promised a thorough investigation into Dr Li, who died of the virus after being infected by one of his patients.
Li, 34, was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who first noticed a disease similar to SARS which killed nearly 800 people in a 2002-2003 outbreak.
He blogged about his findings and noted that seven patients had contracted the virus. On January 3 he was visited by police who forced him to sign a statement admitting to having spread falsehoods and warning him of punishment if he continued.
By January 10 Li wrote he had developed a cough, fever on January 11 and was hospitalised on January 12, after which he began having trouble breathing.
On Friday as news of his death broke, he was hailed as a hero with a slew of tributes and fury at officials who scrubbed social media posts.
"He is a hero who warned others with his life," a fellow Wuhan doctor wrote on Weibo.
AFRICA CAUGHT UNPREPARED
The virus has yet to be confirmed in Africa, but global health authorities are increasingly worried about the threat to the continent, where an estimated onemillion Chinese now live, as some health workers warn they are not ready to handle an outbreak.
Countries are racing to take precautions as hundreds of travelers arrive from China every day. Safeguards include stronger surveillance at ports of entry and improved quarantine and testing measures across Africa, home to 1.2 billion people and some of the world's weakest systems for detecting and treating disease.
But the effort has been complicated by a critical shortage of testing kits and numerous illnesses that display symptoms similar to the flu-like virus.
"The problem is, even if it's mild, it can paralyze the whole community," said WHO emergency operations manager Dr Michel Yao.
While China is bearing the brunt of the virus, anxiety levels are spiking across Asia, with Japan alarmed by the rising number of cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship, major foreign companies pulling out of an international air show in Singapore, and Thailand losing money as Chinese tourists stay home.
Another three people on the cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan's health ministry said.
Thailand reported seven new cases, including three Thais and four Chinese, bringing the total reported in the country to 32, among the world's highest number of infections outside of China.
Having already decided to suspend most flights from Monday between Taiwan to China, Taiwan's government said it would also suspend all direct passenger and freight shipping.
Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated out of Wuhan over the past two weeks.
A second evacuation plane to airlift Australians out of Wuhan was delayed after China did not give it clearance to land but has since taken off.