China on Thursday reported no new domestic coronavirus cases for the first time since the outbreak began there late last year, a milestone in the fight against the global pandemic.
The National Health Commission also said the rate of increase had slowed.
The news was another sign of the country's success in containing the spread of the virus, and it has been more than willing to share that success with the rest of the world. Beijing has ramped up efforts to position itself as a global leader in recent days, championing its expertise by offering doctors and experts in traditional medicine to other hard-hit nations.
Eight people died Wednesday from COVID-19, the National Health Commission said, bringing the total death toll on the mainland to 3,245. But 819 patients were discharged the same day, the commission said.
Officials said they expected the downward trend to continue.
“We expect new cases will cease to appear in mid or late March,” said Li Lanjuan, director of China’s State Key Laboratory for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, Reuters reported.
And while there were 34 newly confirmed cases in mainland China, those affected had all arrived from overseas, officials said.
In recent days, China has touted its efforts to fulfill its responsibilities as a member of the world community.
"While making all-out efforts to combat it at home, China is actively engaging in international cooperation and providing as much help as possible to other countries and international organizations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at news conference Wednesday.
Teams of Chinese experts were sent to Italy, Iran and Iraq, while medical supplies and other aid has been sent to countries across Europe and Africa, Geng said.
Li Keqiang, premier of China's State Council, said late Wednesday that he had spoken to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to offer support combating the virus while also pushing for trade agreements.
Li, in a statement, expressed "China’s readiness to facilitate Europe’s purchase of medical supplies via commercial channels" and eagerness to "advance the negotiation on the China-E.U. investment treaty."
Von der Leyen said on Twitter that China would provide Europe with 2 million surgical masks, 200,000 specialized masks and 50,000 testing kits.
China's experiences dealing with the epidemic, which is believed to have started in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, late last year, are indeed valuable for the rest of the world, according to the World Health Organization.
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"Great lessons can be learned" from its joint mission in China, the WHO said in a statement to NBC News, including recommendations to isolate every case, trace every contact of those infected and take an "all-of-society approach" in fighting its spread.
In Italy, the new global hot spot for the virus, officials reported a surge in the death toll this week, now at 2,978.
In response, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday extended the national lockdown beyond its April 3 deadline, meaning schools and institutions would remain closed and the public's movements restricted.
Geng, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Beijing's push to support the international community was an effort to return the favor for aid it received at the onset of the outbreak.
"After COVID-19 broke out, many American companies, civil groups and people made donations to China, for which we thank them," he said. "Now as the disease spreads, Chinese local governments and civil institutions are helping the U.S., too."