Health officials in China’s Hubei province — the epicentre of the outbreak of a new coronavirus — reported the largest single-day infection rate to date on Thursday, identifying 14,840 new cases in the region and 242 more deaths.
The figures, which are more than 10 times the previous day’s reported infections, come as Chinese health officials have expanded how they diagnose those who show symptoms associated with the virus, called COVID-19. Officials previously relied solely on specialized testing kits, but the new data includes those who have been screened by doctors, The New York Times reported. Hubei has also begun using CT scans to identify infected patients.
“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,” Hubei’s health authority said in a statement, according to a translation from the South China Morning Post.
Reuters added that if cases identified using the new methods were excluded from the count, then there were only 1,508 new cases. More than 50,000 people have now been confirmed to have COVID-19 across China.
The new figures reflected a statistical whiplash and come just a day after Beijing reported the lowest daily number of new infections in two weeks. The government touted that decline in its attempt to champion its containment efforts that have effectively quarantined 60 million people in and around Hubei.
Senior Chinese officials have also been urging workers to return to their jobs after extending the Lunar New Year holiday, although many have been staying home out of fear.
Experts have warned, however, that the number of people infected with the virus could be far higher than reported due to the complicated testing required, a shortage of medical supplies at some hospitals and recent observations that many people have mild cases that don’t require medical treatment.
Officials agree, however, that COVID-19 is highly transmissible and warned that infection rates could fall or skyrocket at any moment.
“Our greatest fear remains the damage this coronavirus could do in a country like [the Democratic Republic of Congo],” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said during a WHO meeting on the Ebola crisis in West Africa on Wednesday. “Even as the flames of one outbreak begin to die down, we are fighting another fire-front.”
He added: “The number of newly confirmed cases reported from China has stabilized over the past week, but that must be interpreted with extreme caution. This outbreak could still go in any direction.”
The fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which the WHO dubbed COVID-19 on Tuesday, continues to spread.
Businesses have also taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including airlines that have cancelled many of their flights into China. One of the world’s largest technology trade shows, set to be held in Barcelona, called off this year’s event because of the outbreak.
New cases have continued to pop up around the globe. The U.S. reported its 14th on Wednesday, saying a person evacuated from Wuhan to a military base near San Diego had tested positive for the virus.