Virus devastation bigger than China lets on, data show

China | 13 Feb 2020 5:27 pm

Hubei, the province at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record jump in deaths and thousands more cases today under a new diagnostic method, suggesting a much bigger crisis facing China and the world, Reuters reports.

Health officials in Hubei said 242 people had died on Wednesday, the fastest rise in the daily count since the pathogen was identified in December. That took total deaths from the coronavirus to more than 1,350, all but two in China and most - about 1,310 - in Hubei.

The jump in the numbers came a day after markets were cheered when China reported its lowest number of new cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by the country’s senior medical adviser that the epidemic could end by April.

Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days to process. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for identification of organisms like viruses.

But it has begun using quicker computerized tomography (CT) scans, which reveal lung infections, to confirm virus cases, health officials said.

As a result, another new 14,840 cases were reported in Hubei today, from 2,015 new cases nationwide a day earlier.

About 60,000 people have now been confirmed to have the virus, the vast majority in China.

The CT scans will help patients get treatment more quickly and improve chances of recovery, the Hubei health commission said.

The new diagnostic procedure could explain the spike in deaths, according to Raina McIntyre, head of biosecurity research at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

“Presumably, there are deaths which occurred in people who did not have a lab diagnosis but did have a CT. It is important that these also be counted,” she told Reuters.

The new testing methodology is only being used in Hubei province, Chinese officials said.

The outbreak is one of the biggest tests facing the Chinese government in years and blame has fallen on provincial leaders.

State media reported provincial Communist Party boss Jiang Chaoliang had been sacked as secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee, and Ma Guoqiang had been removed as party chief in the provincial capital Wuhan.

“Thank you Communist Party. It should have been done earlier,” Wuhan resident Wang You told Reuters.

Dozens of low-level health officials across the country have also lost their jobs for failing to contain the epidemic, which is believed to have emerged from a market in Wuhan where wildlife was traded illegally.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday the number of cases of infection in China had stabilized but it was too early to say the epidemic was slowing.

“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.

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