The number of deaths and new cases from the coronavirus outbreak in China increased dramatically on Thursday after officials changed their way of counting infections in a step that is likely to fuel speculation that the extent of the epidemic was under-reported.
Hubei’s hard-hit central province recorded 242 deaths in one day, and 14,840 new patients — its highest one-day count since last month’s crisis erupted.
Read More: China coronavirus death toll rises to 1,016
The jump increased the death toll to 1,355 and the total number of nationwide infections to almost 60,000—just hours after President Xi Jinping announced “positive results” from the government’s drastic measures to contain the virus, and a top Chinese expert forecast that this month’s outbreak would peak.
Hubei officials said they were broadening their description of COVID-19 cases by including “clinically diagnosed” people with the virus in the daily report.
This means officials may use lung imaging to diagnose the virus on suspected cases, rather than normal nucleic acid testing.
Since the end of last month China has placed some 56 million people in virtual quarantine in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, and restricted millions more movements in cities far from the epicenter in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.
On Wednesday, Xi chaired a meeting of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee after figures showed that the number of new cases had plummeted for a second straight day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has lauded China for its open handling of the epidemic, in contrast to how it covered the severity of the SARS virus.
But it has faced persistent skepticism among the global public, with suggestions that parallels that remain with how it dealt with the outbreak of 2002-2003.
Hubei authorities were accused of denying the severity of the outbreak in early January because they conducted key political meetings at the time.
Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission of China, had said Tuesday that he thought the outbreak would peak in mid-to late February.
Yet officials of the World Health Organization in Geneva warned against drawing premature conclusions on the Chinese data Wednesday.
“I think it’s way too early to try to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic right now,” said Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme.
In Spain, organizers of the world’s top mobile telecommunications trade fair, the World Mobile Congress, said the show would be cancelled after an evacuation of heavyweights from industry over coronavirus concerns.
The GSMA, which is planning the annual show set for Barcelona, said it had been cancelled because of “the global concern about the coronavirus outbreak, travel risks and other circumstances.”
The announcement was made just hours after the pull-out of Vodafone, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, Britain’s BT and Japan’s Rakuten, following in the footsteps of Apple, Google, Cisco and Vivo, China.
Within China the biggest cluster of cases is on a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan.
An additional 39 people on board the Diamond Princess screened positively, bringing the overall number of cases to 174, while in quarantine thousands of passengers and crew face a second week.