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WHO: Coronavirus death rate higher than initially thought

World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Tuesday said the death rate from the novel coronavirus is higher than previously thought.

"Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing.

Last week, Tedros said a WHO team in China found the case fatality rate was between 2 percent and 4 percent inside the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and 0.7 percent outside of Wuhan.

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However, officials have struggled to find an accurate count of the death rate because many people with mild cases don't show symptoms and may not seek treatment.

Tedros said containment of the virus is still possible worldwide, even though there are nearly 91,000 reported cases and more than 3,100 deaths.

"We understand that people are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat, especially when it’s a threat we don’t completely understand. But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more," Tedros said.

Tedros said the biggest challenge to countries being able to respond to the virus is "the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse."

Health care workers rely on personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others. 

But WHO officials said shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other front-line workers "dangerously ill-equipped" to care for COVID-19 patients.

"We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers," Tedros said. He called for governments and industry to increase manufacturing by 40 percent to meet rising global demand.