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Mainland China virus cases rise again after earlier decline

BEIJING (AP) — China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism disease control measures that have isolated major cities might be working, while the government promised billions of dollars in loans to companies involved in fighting the increasingly costly outbreak.

The mainland death toll rose by 97 to 908. Two more fatalities were reported outside the country. Another 3,062 cases were reported in China over the 24 hours through midnight Sunday. That was up 15% from Saturday and broke a string of daily declines. A government spokesman had said Sunday those declines showed containment measures were working.

Also Monday, Hong Kong reported seven more cases, raising its total to 36. The government said all were part of a family gathering attended by two relatives from mainland China. Malaysia reported its 18th case.

Meanwhile, the mother of a physician who died last week in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, said she wants an explanation from authorities who reprimanded her son for warning about the virus.

China has built two hospitals for virus patients in Wuhan and sent thousands of extra doctors, nurses and other health care workers to the city of 11 million people. Most access to Wuhan was suspended Jan. 23 and restrictions were expanded since then ave spread to cities with a total of 60 million people.

The fatality toll has passed the 774 people believed to have died in the 2002-03 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 40,171 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.

More than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China. Asian stock markets slid Monday following warnings that investor optimism about the disease and its economic impact coming under control might be premature.

China's central bank announced a 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) fund to make low-interest loans to producers of medicine and medical supplies or other companies involved in fighting the virus. Chinese businesses are reeling from anti-disease measures that closed shops, restaurants and factories and disrupted travel.

Businesses are gradually reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to discourage travel, but they face heavy losses. Over the weekend, the government promised tax cuts and subsidies to farmers, supermarkets, producers of medical supplies and companies that contribute to anti-disease work.

China's leaders are trying to keep food flowing to crowded cities despite the anti-disease controls and to quell fears of possible shortages and price spikes following panic buying after most access to Wuhan and nearby cities was cut off.

Japan's health minister said his government was considering testing all of the more than 3,600 crew and passengers of the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess before allowing them to disembark. Health officials have found 70 confirmed cases aboard the ship in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

Five of the six new cases announced Sunday aboard the ship are crew assigned to restaurants, bars or housekeeping, according to the minister, Katsunobu Kato. Testing every person aboard would require them all to remain on the ship until results are available.

Japanese health authorities are scrambling to deliver medicine requested by more than 600 passengers. “We are doing the utmost to keep everyone in good health," Kato said. On Sunday, Hong Kong released 3,600 people quarantined aboard the cruise ship Dream World after tests of the crew found no infections. The ship was isolated after previous passengers were diagnosed with the virus.

Hong Kong has shut all but two of its land and sea border points to the mainland. On Saturday, it started enforcing a 14-day quarantine on arrivals from mainland China. Malaysia confirmed its 18th case in a man who works in Macau, a Chinese territory adjacent to Hong Hong, and visited the mainland before going to Malaysia on Feb. 1. The man was first diagnosed with SARS before testing positive for the new virus.

The mother of a physician who died last week in Wuhan said in a video released Sunday she wants an explanation from authorities who reprimanded him for warning about the virus in December. The death of Li Wenliang, 34, prompted an outpouring of public anger. Some postings left on his microblog account said officials should face consequences for mistreating Li.

“We won’t give up if they don’t give us an explanation,” said Lu Shuyun in the video distributed by Pear Video, an online broadcast platform. The video shows flowers in her home with a note that says, “Hero is immortal. Thank you.”

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