China on Friday mourned the death of a Chinese doctor who tried to warn about the coronavirus outbreak amid widespread public anger against the government for trying to suppress the whistleblower, as Beijing launched a "people's war" against the epidemic that has claimed 637 lives.
On Thursday, the death toll in novel coronavirus epidemic rose to 637 with 73 new mortalities, mostly from the worst-affected Hubei province, while the total number of confirmed cases has crossed 31,000, Chinese health officials said on Friday.
Li Wenliang died after contracting the virus while treating patients in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak that has spread to over 20 countries, including India.
Last December Li, 34, sent a message to fellow medics warning of a virus he thought looked like Sars - another deadly coronavirus.
The Communist nation, in rare gesture, grieved the passing away of Li who was told by police to "stop making false comments" and was investigated for "spreading rumours".
Amid the outpouring of grief and anger all over the country, China's ruling Communist Party sent a high-level investigation team to the epidemic-hit Wuhan to probe his death.
If his warnings have been heeded, perhaps over five million people from Wuhan would have been prevented from travelling within China and abroad for week-long Chinese New Year holiday which began on January 23.
Both China and over 27 countries including India are struggling to cope up with the spiralling virus mostly spread by the travellers from Wuhan and Hubei province.
A total of 220 cases have been reported from overseas. Kerala has reported three cases while 647 evacuated Indians from Wuhan are going through quarantine in Manesar.
Hubei province and its provincial capital Wuhan reported 69 deaths on Thursday while Jilin, Henan, Guangdong and Hainan provinces reported one each, health authorities said.
As many as 73 people died on Thursday, while another 3,143 new cases of infection were reported, taking the total number of confirmed cases of infection to 31,161 from 31 provincial-level regions, they said.
In the midst of mounting crisis at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to his US counterpart Donald Trump and asked him to assess the epidemic in a "calm" manner.
He urged America to adopt and adjust its response measures in a "reasonable way" to China's intensified efforts to contain the dreaded virus.
Xi, in his first phone call with Trump since the coronavirus outbreak told the US president that China had launched a "people's war" against the epidemic that has been wreaking havoc in China and across the world.
People's war is an ideological concept developed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong which meant a prolonged struggle with the support of people while fighting for a particular cause.
Xi told Trump that the Chinese government and the people were making their maximum efforts to contain the outbreak.
"We are fully confident and capable of fighting the epidemic.
The long-term trend of China's economic development will not change," he said asked Trump to respond reasonably to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Ahead of Xi and Trump phone call, China has accused the US of creating global panic with travel bans and evacuation of diplomats besides flight cancellations.
Meanwhile, Wuhan began combing communities to ensure every confirmed or suspected patient is located and attended to as a senior official vowed to nail any official deserter "to history's pillar of shame." A conference on epidemic control on Thursday ordered the megacity with a population of over 11 million to make all-out efforts to locate patients confirmed or suspected to be infected with the virus, close contacts of confirmed cases, as well as patients with fever.
Once identified, these people must be treated or placed in quarantine in a timely manner, the conference said, adding that "no family or individual shall be neglected," state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
City officials said checkpoints are being set up outside every community and apartment building to measure residents' body temperatures, while community workers and volunteers are paying house-to-house visits to conduct checks.
Fever patients found in the process will be escorted to community clinics, which will decide whether they should be quarantined at home or be sent to other isolation areas. Police will step in if a patient refuses to obey quarantine rules and all persuasion fails, officials said.
Chinese health officials have sent more than 11,000 medics, including the country's best ICU staff, to the city of Wuhan, Among them, over 3,000 doctors and nurses are intensive care specialists, Guo Yanhong, an official with the National Health Commission, told media here.
"We are fully aware of the urgent need for ICU professionals in Wuhan. The current medics have been working for quite a long time and are exhausted both physically and mentally," Guo said.
The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday said the world was running out of masks and other protective equipment against the novel coronavirus.
Pangolins could be responsible for the spread of the deadly coronavirus in China, scientists said on Friday after they found the genome sequence separated from the endangered mammals 99 per cent identical to that from infected people.