The Chinese province at the center of the novel coronavirus outbreak reported a record spike in deaths Thursday, bringing the total number to more than 1,300 people globally, as experts warned the epidemic could “create havoc” in less prepared countries.
Health authorities in Hubei announced an additional 242 deaths and 14,840 cases of the virus, known officially as Covid-19, as of Thursday morning, the largest single-day rise since the epidemic began and almost 10 times the number of cases confirmed the previous day.
The government explained the spike as due to a change in how cases are tabulated — the total will now include “clinically diagnosed cases” after rising numbers of residents complained about the difficulty in getting tested and treated for the virus.
“Clinically diagnosed cases” are those patients who demonstrate all the symptoms of Covid-19 but have been unable to be scientifically tested, or died before they were tested. The hope is that more people will be able to receive treatment by allowing doctors to diagnose them with the virus.
Almost 34,000 patients have been hospitalized across Hubei, the central Chinese province of which Wuhan is capital, including 1,400 or so in a critical condition. So far, 3,441 patients have recovered and been discharged.
Globally, the virus has infected more than 60,000 people, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China. On Thursday, China said it has confirmed 59,804 cases on the mainland, an increase of 15,152 cases from the previous day.
The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the country now stands at 1,367, according to China’s National Health Commission.
Only two deaths have occurred outside of mainland China.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials described China’s decision to broaden their definition of what constitutes a confirmed case as a necessary measure.
“When the situation is evolving, you change your definition just to make sure you can monitor the disease accurately, and this is what they have done recently — change the case definition to incorporate more cases that were not in the initial case definition, but also integrate cases that are both asymptomatic or with little symptom,” Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of WHO’s Infectious Hazards Management Department, said during a press conference Wednesday.
However, the major increase in the number of deaths and cases of the coronavirus appears to dash hopes that the outbreak was leveling off. It comes as additional cases were confirmed on the quarantined cruise ship docked in the Japanese city of Yokohama, and in the US, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the country “can and should be prepared for this new virus to gain a foothold.”
In the UK too, a new case was confirmed Wednesday in the capital London, with health officials warning that more were likely to follow.
WHO officials had previously expressed some optimism at the apparently stabilizing outbreak in China, but even then they cautioned that the virus could still spread elsewhere.
“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
“We have to invest in preparedness,” Tedros said, adding that richer countries should help invest in countries with a weaker health system. He warned the virus could “create havoc” if it reaches a country whose health system is not capable of handling such an epidemic.