Publish: 13 Feb 2020, 12:55 pm
The number of deaths and new cases from the outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus in China rose sharply on Thursday.
The authorities have changed the way they classify infections in a step that is sure to intensify concern that the extent of the epidemic has been underreported.
The jump increased the death toll to 1,355, and the cumulative number of national infections to nearly 60,000—only a few hours after President Xi Jinping reported ' positive results ' from the government's drastic measures to control the outbreak, and a top Chinese scientist forecast that the disease would peak this month.
The hard-hit central province of Hubei recorded 242 deaths in just one day and 14,840 new patients — by far the highest one-day count since the crisis exploded last month.
Officials in Hubei said that they were broadening their definition of COVID-19 cases by including ' clinically diagnosed ' people with the virus in the daily count.
Since late last month, China has put some 56 million under virtual quarantine in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, and has limited the travel of millions more in cities far from the epicentre in an unparalleled effort to contain the virus.
Xi chaired the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo Resolution on Wednesday after the figures showed that the number of new cases had declined for a second straight day.
China has been lauded by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its open management of the disease, as opposed to its concealment of the severity of the SARS epidemic.
But it has faced continued scepticism among the global public, with suggestions that there may be similarities with the way it dealt with the 2002-2003 outbreak.
Authorities in Hubei have been accused of concealing the gravity of the outbreak in early January because they were holding key political meetings at the time.
Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China’s National Health Commission, said on Tuesday he thought the outbreak would peak in mid- to late-February.
But in Geneva, World Health Organisation officials warned Wednesday against reaching premature conclusions on the Chinese data.
‘I think it’s way too early to try to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic right now,’ said Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme.
In Spain, organisers of the world’s top mobile telecommunications trade fair, the World Mobile Congress, said the event would be cancelled following an exodus of industry heavyweights over coronavirus fears.
The GSMA, which organises the annual show, set for Barcelona, said it was cancelled due to ‘the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances.’
Several countries have banned arrivals from China, while major airlines have halted flights to and from the country, as hundreds of people have now been infected in some two dozen countries.
The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast.
An additional 39 people on board the Diamond Princess have tested positive, raising the total number of cases to 174, while thousands of passengers and crew face the second week in quarantine.