The number of new coronavirus deaths on the Chinese mainland hit 811 by end of Feb. 8, the National Health Commission said on Sunday morning, surpassing that of the SARS epidemic in 2002/2003.
The new deaths on Saturday reached another daily record at 89, the data showed, pushing the total well over the 774 who died from SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Of the coronavirus deaths, 81 were in China's central Hubei province, where the virus has infected most people. New deaths in Hubei's capital Wuhan, where the outbreak started, saw a rare decline.
New infection cases on Saturday recorded the first drop since February 1, falling back below 3,000 to 2,656 cases. Of those, 2,147 cases were in Hubei province.
Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, said it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking due to the uncertainty in the number of cases.
"Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don't know what is happening with unreported cases," he said. "This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas."
The total of confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 37,198 cases, showed the commission data.