China on Thursday reported 254 new deaths and a spike in virus cases of 15,152, after the hardest-hit province of Hubei applied a new classification system that broadens the scope of diagnoses for the outbreak, which has spread to more than 20 countries.
Japan also reported its first death, a woman in her 80s who had been hospitalized since early February. Two other places outside mainland China — Hong Kong and the Philippines — have previously confirmed one death each.
The new diagnostic approach came on the same day that Hubei and its stricken capital, Wuhan, replaced their top officials in an apparent response to public criticism of local authorities’ handling of the epidemic.
The total deaths in mainland China since the outbreak began in December stood at 1,367, with the total number of confirmed cases mounting to 52,526. This figure now includes more than 13,000 cases of “clinical diagnosis” in Hubei, which appears to include those based on a doctors’ analysis combined with lung imaging, as opposed to waiting for laboratory test results.
In breaking down the large number of new cases in China, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said Hubei had adopted a revised diagnosis and treatment plan aimed at accelerating the identification and treatment of patients.
That adds a “clinical diagnosis case” classification to identify suspected cases who appear to have pneumonia so that patients can be accepted as soon as possible and treated as confirmed cases, Mi said, adding that should “reduce severe illness and mortality”.
China also appointed new high-level officials in Hubei and Wuhan.
Former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong succeeded Jiang Chaoliang as the ruling Communist Party chief in the beleaguered province, the Xinhua state news agency reported, while Wang Zhonglin took over from Ma Guoqiang as the party secretary in Wuhan.
The appointments follow the sacking earlier this week of two leaders of the provincial health commission. State media also reported that a slew of others were expelled from the party for transgressions related to the epidemic.
The public has widely criticized local officials for failing to respond quickly and decisively to the new virus. Authorities initially assured people that there was little to no risk of human-to-human transmission, a statement that was later retracted. Wuhan residents said hospitals were overcrowded and lacked sufficient medical supplies. Doctors who tried to share information early on were reprimanded by police for “spreading rumors”.
Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on recent visitors to China, which has more than 99 per cent of the world’s reported infections.