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Seoul, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 07: Disinfection workers in protective gear sterilizes the area against the novel coronavirus, also known as Wuhan coronavirus, in Tong-in Market placed in the center of Seoul, on February 07, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. On this day China's National Health Commission raised the death toll from the virus from the virus to 636 from 563, global total is 638. (Photo by Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

Coronavirus death toll climbs near total from SARS

Seoul, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 07: Disinfection workers in protective gear sterilizes the area against the novel coronavirus, also known as Wuhan coronavirus, in Tong-in Market placed in the center of Seoul, on February 07, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. On this day China's National Health Commission raised the death toll from the virus from the virus to 636 from 563, global total is 638. (Photo by Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak is likely to soon surpass the total from SARS, if the disease continues to kill people in the coming days at its current pace.

Police officers stand guard as Filipinos hoping to buy face masks crowd outside a medical supply shop that was raided by police for allegedly hoarding and overpricing the masks, as public fear over China’s Wuhan Coronavirus grows, on January 31, 2020 in Manila, Philippines.

Total fatalities from coronavirus rose to at least 717 early Saturday in China after Hubei Province, epicentre of the outbreak, reported 81 new deaths and 2,841 new cases. In 2002 and 2003, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 774 people after starting in China and spreading around the globe.

Total deaths in the current outbreak may be far higher, given reports of an overwhelmed health system in Hubei, central China.

People wearing masks walk at Hong Kong Station at Central district of Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

China named two officials to take charge of the response to the outbreak in Hubei as the government attempts to slow the spread of the illness. A new report in a medical journal said the infection was spreading inside a Wuhan hospital taking care of patients.

Medical supply chain from China unaffected

The coronavirus hasn’t led to any disruptions in the US in the supply chain of medical and protective gear, much of which is made in China, officials from President Donald Trump’s task force said at a briefing Friday where they updated the public on progress.

Efforts to produce drugs to treat infections and vaccines to prevent new cases are proceeding smoothly, said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

There are two studies underway using Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir to see if patients treated with it recover more quickly than those given standard supportive care. Efforts to start human studies of Moderna Inc.’s potential vaccine within the next two-and-a-half months are proceeding with no glitches, Fauci said.

The US is still waiting to hear from China about whether its offer to send experts in virology, drug development and epidemiology as part of a team from the World Health Organization will be accepted, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at the briefing.

Disinfection workers in protective gear sterilises the area against the novel coronavirus, also known as Wuhan coronavirus, in Tong-in Market placed in the center of Seoul, on February 07, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.

US ready to aid China

The US is prepared to spend as much as US$100 million to help China and other nations fighting the spread of the coronavirus, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Friday. The US this week helped ship to China 17.8 tonnes of donated supplies, such as masks, gowns, gauze, respirators and other materials this week, he said in a statement.

The financial assistance to foreign government is direct and through multilateral organisations, the State Department said.

–Bloomberg