BEIJING - The death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak soared to 803 in China on Sunday, according to official figures, overtaking the global toll for SARS.

With 81 more people dying in Hubei -- the province at the centre of the outbreak -- the toll is now higher than the 774 killed worldwide by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002-2003, according to figures released Sunday. The latest data came after the World Health Organisation said numbers were “stabilising” -- but warned it was too early to make any predictions about whether the virus might have peaked. Nearly 37,000 people have now been infected by the new coronavirus in China, believed to have emerged last year in a market that sold wild animals in Hubei’s capital Wuhan before spreading across China.

The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down whole cities, as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.

A 60-year-old American diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan, according to the US embassy, which gave no further details on the victim.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement to AFP that the victim was a US citizen of Chinese origin.

A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was “difficult” to confirm if he had the illness. The only fatalities outside the mainland were a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.

Numbers ‘stabilising’

In Geneva, the World Health Organization said that the number of cases being reported daily in China is “stabilising”. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned against misinformation about the virus, saying it made the work of healthcare staff harder.

“We’re not just battling the virus, we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theorists that push misinformation and undermine the outbreak response,” he said.

Fearing that the virus could cause an economic slowdown in China -- the world’s leading oil importer and consumer -- a committee appointed by the OPEC club of petroleum producing countries recommended cuts in oil output. “The coronavirus epidemic has had a negative impact on economic activity, notably in transport, tourism and industry, particularly in China,” Mohamed Arkab, president of the conference of OPEC, said in a statement.