China reports record surge in daily coronavirus deaths

The latest:

  • China says the number of new cases reported in 24-hour period jumped to 14,840.
  • Number of deaths in mainland China leapt by a record 242, health commission says.
  • WHO warns epidemic could still ‘go in any direction.’
  • WHO gives disease a name: COVID-19.
  • More cases confirmed on Diamond Princess ship, while 2nd vessel — which has no confirmed cases — will dock in Cambodia after being turned away at other ports.
  • Risk to people in Canada remains low, top public health official says.

The death toll in China’s central Hubei province from a coronavirus outbreak leapt by a record 242 on Thursday, taking the total number of deaths in the province so far to 1,310, the province’s health commission said.

The new deaths were more than twice the prior provincial daily record of 103 set on Monday.

The number of new cases in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, also jumped to 14,840 as the commission said that it had begun including people who are diagnosed through new clinical methods from Thursday.

It also said it had revised its old data and suspected cases. The latest death toll included over 100 clinically diagnosed cases.

It was not immediately clear how the new methodology affected the results, nor why the death toll rose so sharply.

State media said last week that Hubei will start recognizing computerized tomography (CT) scan results as confirmation of infections, allowing hospitals to isolate patients more quickly.

Reuters reported last month that a lack of RNA test kits in Hubei’s capital Wuhan may have delayed patients from being properly diagnosed and treated, contributing to the spread of the virus in the early days of the outbreak.

Total cases in the province have now reached 48,206, showed the commission data.

Outbreak could ‘go in any direction’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has likened the epidemic’s threat to terrorism, and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with “extreme caution.”

“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he said at a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

Another expert said that while the coronavirus may be peaking in China, that might not be the case elsewhere.

A worker in a protective suit serves customers at a checkout counter of a supermarket in Wuhan on Wednesday. The World Health Organization has named the disease caused by the new virus COVID-19, avoiding any animal or geographic designation to avoid stigmatization and to show the disease comes from a new coronavirus discovered in 2019. (Reuters)

“It has spread to other places where it’s the beginning of the outbreak,” Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, co-ordinated by the WHO, said in an interview from Singapore.

“In Singapore, we are at the beginning.” Singapore has 50 cases.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of other countries and territories, but only two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

United Kingdom health officials announced on Wednesday the number of confirmed coronavirus cases there had risen to nine, saying the latest patient, who is in London, had caught the virus in China.

After a two-day WHO meeting in Geneva on research and innovation into measures to tackle the outbreak, Tedros welcomed the enthusiasm of participating scientists.

He said a WHO-led advance team, led by Canada’s Dr. Bruce Aylward, travelled to China this week and made good progress in outlining the composition and scope of its work.

Earlier on Wednesday, the head of the WHO’s emergency program, Dr. Mike Ryan, said it was too early to predict the end of the epidemic.

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“We definitely see that the behaviour of the virus outside Wuhan in Hubei and the rest of China and outside China doesn’t appear at this point to be as aggressive or as accelerated. And that’s a good sign,” Ryan said.

“That gives us an opportunity to prepare and to react and still gives us the opportunity for containment and potential interruption of transmission of the virus. But that’s no guarantee.”

On Tuesday, the WHO announced the illness caused by the virus is now named COVID-19, reflecting that it comes from a new coronavirus discovered in 2019.

The illness was first reported in December and connected to a food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak has largely been concentrated.

More cases on cruise ship

Meanwhile, in Japan, another 39 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined there, with one quarantine officer also infected, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. 

Princess Cruises confirmed Wednesday morning that the additional cases brings the total confirmed count for guests and crew to 174.

“We are following guidance from the Japan Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases,” the company said in a statement.

The Diamond Princess is not the only ship that is dealing with the outbreak. The MS Westerdam, which has 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members on board, has been turned away by several ports amid fear that someone on the ship might have the coronavirus.

Sam Wong, right, who owns 66 Hotpot, a family-run restaurant in the bustling Hong Kong district of Mongkok, takes the temperature of a member of his staff on Wednesday. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Holland America Line announced that Cambodia has agreed to take the ship, which has not reported having any sick passengers.

“All guests on board are healthy, and despite erroneous reports there are no known or suspected cases of coronavirus on board, nor have there ever been,” a statement from the cruise line said.

In Canada, the number of confirmed cases stands at seven — with four in B.C. and three in Ontario. On Wednesday, public health officials in Ontario said that one of the three patients in the province had returned two negative tests for the virus within 24 hours. Two other people with the virus are doing well enough to be out of hospital.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, reiterated Tuesday that the risk to people in Canada — including those living near CFB Trenton in Ontario, where individuals who were repatriated from China are living under quarantine — remains low.

Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs against the virus but preliminary clinical trial results are weeks away, Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, co-chair of a WHO meeting, said Wednesday. 

Kieny said some patients have already been dosed with a combination of the antiviral drugs ritonavir and lopinavir, but she did not have an exact count.

It “would be excellent if it would work because this drug is available in particular as a generic formulation for the treatment of HIV, so this would clearly be a drug that would be available,” Kieny said.

It remains to be seen whether the treatment will prove effective against the new virus, she said. “We don’t know the result, and we still have to wait for a few days, or a few weeks to have a result.”

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