In comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 per cent of those infected.
The new figure comes after deaths spiked in Iran and Italy, which along with South Korea account for 80 per cent of the new virus cases outside China, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, with more than 3200 deaths.
“People are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more.”
The new death rate figure came as a surprise, after a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine assessing data from more than 30 Chinese provinces estimated the death rate was 1.4 per cent.
Death rates in outbreaks are likely to skew higher early on as health officials focus on finding severe and fatal cases, missing most milder cases.
WHO said the majority of people with coronavirus experience only mild symptoms, but the risks rise with the age of the patient and for those with any underlying health conditions.
It has previously estimated the mortality rate of COVID-19 can differ, ranging from 0.7 per cent to up to 4 per cent, depending on the quality of the healthcare system where it’s treated. Early in the outbreak, scientists had concluded the death rate was around 2.3 per cent.
However, authorities are keen to point out that the coronavirus is unique and doesn’t spread the same way the common flu does.
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said this gives them a sense of hope that the virus can be contained.
“Here we have a disease for which we have no vaccine, no treatment, we don’t fully understand transmission, we don’t fully understand case mortality, but what we have been genuinely heartened by is that unlike influenza, where countries have fought back, where they’ve put in place strong measures, we’ve remarkably seen that the virus is suppressed,” he said.
ITALY CLOSES ALL SCHOOLS AND VIRUS SPREADS IN THE US
Italy has ordered schools to close nationwide in a bid to contain the virus.
Officials say a total of 3089 people have tested positive in Italy and 107 of them had died – the largest number of deaths outside of China.
Italian Education Minister Lucia Azzolina announced the school suspensions, which start on Thursday, saying she hoped schools would be able to continue with lessons via distance learning.
Italy has seen its virus caseload explode since the first homegrown positive test was registered in northern Lombardy on February 14.
Mainland China and Hong Kong, Japan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have already closed schools or are about to do so – affecting millions of schoolchildren.
France has also closed about 120 schools in areas with the largest numbers of coronavirus infections.
Meanwhile in the US, Washington state has reported its tenth death from the virus and California announced its first.
Health officials in Northern California say the elderly man who had other health conditions died on Wednesday at a hospital in Roseville where he was in isolation.
The man was likely exposed to the virus while he travelled in February on a Princess cruise ship from San Francisco to Mexico, officials said in a statement. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now investigating a “small cluster” of coronavirus cases from the cruise ship voyage.
The Washington state Department of Health released updated figures overnight, showing that nine people had died in King County and one person in Snohomish County.
Washington state has now reported 39 cases, all in the greater Seattle area.
No other information about the newly reported Washington state death was immediately available.
Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence COVID-19 may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected. If true, that could mean there are hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.
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