A total of 14,840 new cases were confirmed in China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic – on Thursday, almost 10 times the number reported a day earlier. The number of new deaths attributable to the contagion rose to 242, more than double, on the day.
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.
“When doctors diagnose pneumonia, they can only get the etiology [causes] 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.
The National Health Commission has not yet released the national total of new cases and deaths.