China reported 15,152 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, according to state broadcaster Xinhua, the largest jump in a single day and up significantly from the few thousand confirmed cases China typically reports daily. Chinese health authorities also reported 254 new deaths, the largest number in a single day since the crisis began in December 2019.
The wild jump on Thursday is likely due to new guidelines for reporting patients with the coronavirus in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. Doctors in Hubei are now diagnosing some cases through CT scans of a patient’s lungs as well as a patient’s history of exposure to others, rather than just lab tests looking exclusively for the coronavirus.
There are now over 60,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, with 1,369 deaths. Roughly 13,332 cases of the coronavirus, which causes an illness that was recently dubbed COVID-19, were clinically diagnosed using the new method, according to a tweet early this morning from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The lab tests for coronavirus are in short supply in China, given the high number of cases, and doctors around the world are reporting false negatives. The Centres For Disease Control (CDC) held a press conference on Wednesday to announce that hundreds of tests distributed in the U.S. were faulty and informed patients that they didn’t have the disease when, in fact, they do.
The U.S. has just 14 confirmed cases of the virus but experts like the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, says he expects that number could grow in the coming weeks.
Gottlieb told the Washington Post yesterday that he believes American doctors are detecting maybe 25 per cent of coronavirus cases “at best” adding, “We’re going to see those outbreaks start to emerge in the next two to four weeks.”
While some health experts outside of China seem cautiously optimistic that the new reporting methods in Hubei will provide a more accurate picture of the public health crisis currently unfolding in Asia, and perhaps show that the disease is less deadly than earlier believed, others are concerned that CT scans may pick up other pneumonia cases that were not caused by the new coronavirus specifically. One public health expert who was sceptical of the new diagnostic methods told the New York Times, “we’re in unknown territory.”
The new reporting methods are not being used outside of Hubei province, according to Shanghai Health Commission spokesperson Zheng Jin, who gave a press conference on Thursday. It’s not immediately clear if other large Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which have just 366 and 315 confirmed cases respectively according to a John Hopkins virus tracker, will start using the new method soon.
The Chinese Communist Party has come down hard on some local leaders, firing the party secretary of Hubei province, Jiang Chaoliang, on Thursday, after public sentiment in the hard hit region turned increasingly sour. Jiang will be replaced by the mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong, according to the New York Times.
Large public gatherings have been banned in China, with tens of millions of people on virtual lockdown, but event organisers and civic organisations around the world are also scaling back their activities. The World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, which was scheduled to start February 24, announced on Wednesday that its event had been cancelled. Many large companies that planned to have exhibits at the mobile phone conference, including Facebook, Cisco, AT&T, Sprint, and Sony, had already pulled out a week earlier.
And closer to China, the Hong Kong Catholic Church has even suspended mass for two weeks, citing concern over the virus.
“The next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic. To avoid gatherings, the Diocese has decided to suspend all the public Masses on Sundays and weekdays for two weeks, including the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday, from 15th to 28th of February,” Cardinal John Tong Hon, Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, said in a statement posted online. “Some Church members may be disappointed. However, I hope that everyone can understand this is not an easy decision.”
The cardinal encouraged people to attend mass through the church’s online services and make sure to take care of the sick and the elderly.
“At this difficult time, everyone should not panic. We must deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbours and all people.”