China has "removed" a number of senior officials over their handling of a novel respiratory virus, state media reported, as the death toll reached more than 1,000.


The National Health Commission reported 108 new fatalities from the coronavirus on February 11, bringing the total death toll in China to 1,016.

There are now a total of 42,638 confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials.

In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the epidemic, 103 people died and 2,097 new cases were reported, the health commission said early on February 11.

According to state broadcaster CCTV, the Communist Party secretary for the Health Commission of Hubei Province and the head of the health commission were among those who were "removed" following a decision by the province's party committee -- the most senior officials to be sanctioned.

The two will be replaced by the deputy director of China's National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng.

However, removal from a certain position does not necessarily mean the person will be fired, as it can also mean demotion.

China's most senior medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.

"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April," added Zhong, 83, an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002-2003.

However, the WHO has said the spread of the pathogen among people who have not been to China could be "the spark that becomes a bigger fire" and the global community must not let the epidemic get out of control.

Ukraine's embassy in China said on February 10 that it was sending a chartered plane to Wuhan -- the provincial capital of Hubei -- to airlift 50 citizens to Kyiv.

Once in Ukraine, the evacuated Ukrainians will be quarantined for 14 days.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases on a cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew on board quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama has doubled to 135.

Two Ukrainians, a 25-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman who worked in the kitchen of the Diamond Princess ship, have tested positive for the virus aboard the ship. A total of 25 Ukrainians work on the ship.

While visiting a hospital treating infected patients in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 10 called the situation in Hubei "still very grave" and that "more decisive measures" were needed to contain the spread of the virus, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

A WHO-led international team of experts landed in Beijing the same day to investigate the epidemic. It is headed by Bruce Aylward who oversaw the organization's 2014-16 response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

There are 168 labs worldwide that have the technology to diagnose the virus, according to the WHO.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.