The number of deaths from the coronavirus in China has surged past 800 people, surpassing the number of fatalities of the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, but overall figures showed a one-day slowing of new cases, raising hopes that it was the first sign of a peaking of the epidemic.



China's National Health Commission on February 9 said the central Hubei Province recorded 89 new deaths on February 8, pushing the total to 811 throughout the country and above the 774 who died from SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The number of new infections in Hubei Province -- whose capital, Wuhan, is considered the epicenter of the outbreak -- showed a decline in new cases for the first time since February 1.

Officials said 2,656 new cases were identified throughout the country for the day, with 2,147 in Hubei.

Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, told Reuters it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking given the uncertainty in reporting procedures.

"Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don't know what is happening with unreported cases. This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas," he said.

The total of confirmed cases hit 37,198 in mainland China.

The virus has spread to about two dozen countries, but all but two of the deaths have occurred in mainland China. The first U.S. citizen died from the disease, officials said on February 8, identifying him as a 60-year-old man in Wuhan.

The virus broke out at a seafood market in Wuhan that reportedly sold exotic animals for consumption -- similar to the SARS outbreak.

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