BEIJING -- China's virus death toll rose by 89 on Sunday to 811, passing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, but fewer new cases were reported in a possible sign its spread may be slowing as other nations stepped up efforts to block the disease.
Some 2,656 new virus cases were reported in the 24 hours ending at midnight Saturday, most of them in the central province of Hubei, where the first patients fell sick in December. That was down by about 20% from the 3,399 new cases reported in the previous 24-hour period.
"That means the joint control mechanism of different regions and the strict prevention and control measures have worked," a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said at a news conference.
Also Sunday, new cases were reported in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the U.K. and Spain. More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China.
"Dramatic reductions" in the pace of the disease's spread should begin this month if containment works, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity. He assisted the World Health Organization and Chinese authorities during the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Warmer weather will reduce the virus's ability to spread and bring people out of enclosed spaces where it is transmitted more easily, Lipkin said in an online news conference. However, he said, if new cases spike as people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, then "we'll know we're in trouble."
The new U.K. case was the nation's fourth, while Spain reported its second, as European authorities sought to contain the spread of the virus by tracking down people who came into contact with those infected.
Both of the new cases were acquired during trips to France, officials said.
The new U.K. case is a known contact of a previously confirmed case there, the country's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said, adding that experts "continue to work hard tracing patient contacts."
In Spain, authorities were working to identify everyone who came into contact with a British man whose case was detected in Mallorca, a popular vacation island in the Mediterranean Sea, Spain's National Microbiology Center said.
The fatality toll passed the 774 people believed to have died of SARS, another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 37,198 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.
The 1,800 passengers and 1,800 crew members of the cruise ship Dream World were released from quarantine after Hong Kong authorities said tests of the crew found no infections.