BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - The death toll from China’s coronavirus epidemic rose to 1,380 on Friday (Feb 14) but the number of new infections in hard-hit Hubei province fell after a change in case definitions caused a massive increase the previous day.
The central province’s health commission reported 116 more deaths and 4,823 new cases, the majority involving “clinically diagnosed” patients.
The province, the epicentre of the outbreak, on Thursday reported 242 more deaths and over 14,800 new cases for Wednesday. Around 64,000 people have now been infected in the country.
Health officials in Hubei said they started to count clinically diagnosed cases to ensure that patients get treated as early as possible instead of having to wait for laboratory tests to confirm they have the Covid-19 disease.
The change raised concerns that the crisis may be more serious than Chinese authorities have reported.
But the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday said a sharp rise in reported coronavirus cases in China, due to a change in counting methods, did not represent a big shift in the epidemic.
"This does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak," Dr Michael Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies programme, said at a press conference.
"We're not dealing, from what we understand, with a spike in cases of 14,000 on one day," he said.
"This increase that you've all seen in the last 24 hours is largely, in part, down to a change in how the cases are being reported."
Figures released by China's National Health Commission on Friday showed that mainland China registered 121 new deaths from the infection for Thursday and reported 5,090 new cases, bringing mainland China's total to 63,851. Hubei's total deaths and confirmed cases stood at 1,318 and 51,986 respectively as at Thursday.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday – a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo - adding to two previous fatalities in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Japan is one of the worst affected of more than two dozen countries and territories outside mainland China that have seen hundreds of infections from the flu-like sickness.
A cruise liner quarantined off a Japanese port has more than 200 people confirmed with the disease. Authorities have said they will allow some elderly people to disembark on Friday.
Passengers on another cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over coronavirus fears started disembarking in Cambodia on Friday.
The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville on Thursday.
It had anchored offshore early in the morning to allow Cambodian officials to board and collect samples from passengers with any signs of ill health or flu-like symptoms.
Meanwhile, the United States feels let down by a lack of transparency from China over the coronavirus crisis, a senior White House official said on Thursday, contradicting President Donald Trump's confidence in Beijing.
"We are a little disappointed that we haven't been invited in and we're a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese," Mr Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.
Mr Trump on Thursday again praised his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for his government's response to the outbreak.