WUHAN, Feb 13, 2020, SCMP. Health authorities in China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic – reported on Thursday 14,840 new confirmed cases, almost 10 times the number reported the day before, following a change in the diagnostic criteria. New deaths attributable to the contagion rose to 242, more than double on the day, South China Morning Post reported.
This brings the totals announced by the province’s health commission to 48,206 and 1,310, respectively, as of Wednesday. Officials in Hubei had reported 94 fatalities and 1,638 newly confirmed cases a day earlier.
Hubei’s health commission said in its daily statement that it had changed the diagnostic criteria used to confirm cases, effective Thursday, meaning that doctors have broader discretion to determine which patients are infected.
“From today on, we will include the number of clinically diagnosed cases into the number of confirmed cases so that patients could receive timely treatment,” the health authority said. Previously, patients could only be diagnosed by test kits, which has seen a shortage of supply across the country.
Tong Zhaohui, an expert in the central guidance group and vice-president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said the move was in line with the National Health Commission’s latest diagnostic guidelines to include clinical diagnosis, using CT scans and other tests.
“When doctors diagnose pneumonia, they can only get the etiology of the disease 20 to 30 per cent of the time. We have to rely on clinical diagnosis 70 to 80 per cent of the time. Increasing the diagnosis of clinical cases will help us make an additional judgment on the disease,” he told state broadcaster CCTV in an exclusive interview.
Dr Ho Pak-leung, a medical expert at the University of Hong Kong, supported the change in diagnostic criteria in Hubei, commenting that under the previous criteria some patients may have died before doctors were able to carry out any tests.
Some 13,436 of the new cases announced on Thursday were confirmed in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated at a seafood and meat market.
The virus – which causes the disease now officially known as Covid-19 – has spread to at least 24 countries, sickened more than 60,000 people worldwide, with tens of thousands more suspected cases.
Chen Yixin, a protege of President Xi Jinping, made his first public assessment of the situation facing Hubei since being named deputy head of the national team overseeing the handling of the outbreak.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Chen said the situation in Wuhan was still very uncertain.
“The scale of the spread has not been accurately estimated. According to calculations by relevant parties, the potential number of infected cases in Wuhan may still be very large,” Chen was quoted as saying in an article published by the social media account of the party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission on Wednesday.
Chen said officials would be evaluated based on their performance in containing the outbreak.
Chen, secretary general of the commission, was parachuted to Hubei over the weekend, the first of a number of heavyweights sent by Beijing to the province as it vowed to hold negligent officials accountable.
On Wednesday, Xinhua reported that Hubei party secretary Jiang Chaoliang would be replaced by Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, 61, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Guangzhou has stopped all dine-in services at food eateries, according to online news portal Southcn.com.
The government has ordered third-party delivery services to implement health management and inspection systems for delivery staff, officials told reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday. It is also promoting “contactless distribution” during the outbreak to prevent consumers picking up meals from delivery personnel face to face.
Although consumers are allowed to pick up their take-out at eateries, officials are encouraging people to order food delivery online.
“Now we will focus on promoting takeaway for local customers. They can order our meals through apps providing online takeaway ordering service,” said Fion Liang, director of sales and marketing at Guangzhou’s luxury Garden Hotel. “As for guests staying in the hotel, we will deliver meals to their rooms.”
Liang said the coronavirus outbreak may hammer Guangzhou’s hotel industry if the situation worsens.
“The impact [of the virus] on January was not that great because the epidemic situation only became severe in the last few days of the month. The effect was definitely much bigger in February. If the epidemic continues to be severe throughout February, the occupancy rate of our rooms will be in the single digits this month. In fact, hotels in Guangzhou are almost in the same situation,” she said.
The cruise ship MS Westerdam arrived in Cambodia on Thursday morning after being turned away by five countries and territories – Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand – because of fears about the coronavirus.
World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Cambodia for allowing the ship to dock in the port town of Sihanoukville.
“This is an example of the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for. Outbreaks can bring out the best and worst in people. Stigmatising individuals or entire nations does nothing but harm the response,” he said.
Meanwhile, the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is stationed in Yokohama, near Japan’s capital Tokyo, has continued to report more cases of the virus on board.
Some 3,600 passengers and crew stranded on the World Dream cruise liner docked in Hong Kong were allowed to disembark on Sunday after health authorities announced that everyone on aboard had tested negative for Covid-19.