Hubei reports nearly 15,000 new COVID-19 cases after broadening definition for infections

10:12 | 13/02/2020
The death toll in China's Hubei province from a coronavirus outbreak leapt by a record 242 on Thursday to 1,310, with a sharp rise in confirmed cases after the adoption of new methodology for diagnosis, health officials said.
hubei reports nearly 15000 new covid 19 cases after broadening definition for infections
People dressed in protective clothes disinfect an area in Wuhan, in Hubei province on Jan 30, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal)

The hard-hit central province of Hubei reported 242 deaths in just one day and 14,840 new patients - by far its biggest one-day tally since the crisis erupted last month.

The jump raised the death toll to 1,355 and the total number of nationwide infections to nearly 60,000 - just hours after President Xi Jinping touted "positive results" from the government's drastic measures to contain the virus and a top Chinese expert predicted the epidemic would peak this month.

Officials in Hubei said they were broadening their definition for COVID-19 cases by including people "clinically diagnosed" with the virus in the daily tally.

This means officials can use lung imaging on suspected cases to diagnose the virus, rather than the standard nucleic acid tests.

Hubei health commission said the change would mean patients could get treatment "as early as possible" and be "consistent" with the classification used in other provinces.

It said it had made the change "as our understanding of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus deepens, and as we accumulate experience in diagnosis and treatment".

China has placed around 56 million people in virtual quarantine in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, since late last month and restricted movements of millions more in cities far from the epicentre in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Xi chaired a meeting of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee on Wednesday after figures showed that the number of new cases had dropped for a second straight day.

China has been praised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its transparent handling of the outbreak, in contrast to how the country was criticised for concealing the extent of the SARS virus.

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.

"TOO EARLY TO PREDICT"

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 Organization 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".

The announcement was made just hours after Vodafone, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom, Britain's BT and Rakuten of Japan had pulled out, following in the footsteps of Intel, Facebook, Cisco and China's Vivo.

US planemaker Boeing warned that there was "no question" the outbreak would hammer the aviation industry and the broader economy.

The epidemic has threatened to harm the Chinese economy, the world's second-largest, with ANZ bank warning that China's first-quarter GDP growth would slow to 3.2-4 per cent, down from a previous projection of 5 per cent.

It has also disrupted sporting events in China: Motorsport's governing body FIA announced the suspension of the Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai, originally scheduled for Apr 19, due to the "continued spread" of the coronavirus.

And this week's Singapore Air Show - Asia's biggest - was badly hit by exhibitors withdrawing and low attendance.

Due to the impact of the virus, the OPEC oil cartel lowered its forecast for growth in global oil demand this year by nearly a fifth.

AFP

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