Coronavirus: China’s Hubei province revises toll, adds 220 cases after prison outbreak

A photo taken on Feb 18, 2020, shows a medical worker checking on patients with mild symptoms of the coronavirus in the temporary Fangcai Hospital set up in a sports stadium in Wuhan. PHOTO: AFP

WUHAN (REUTERS) - China’s central province of Hubei said on Friday (Feb 21) it has revised the number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Thursday upward to 631 from 411 after including cases in the province’s prison system.

The province’s health commission said in a statement that it now had a total of 62,662 cases as of Thursday, after including 220 cases in Hubei’s prison system.

The death toll in Hubei from the outbreak reached 2,144 as of the end of Thursday, up by 115 from the previous day.

The number of new confirmed cases in the provincial capital of Wuhan, epicentre of the outbreak, stood at 319 on Thursday, down from 615 a day earlier and the lowest since Jan. 28. Wuhan reported 99 new deaths, up from 88 on Wednesday. A total of 1,684 people in Wuhan have now died from the virus.

Earlier, China reported an uptick in new cases of coronavirus on Friday, boosted by more than 200 people testing positive for the disease in two prisons outside of Hubei province.

Infections found in two jails, in the northern province of Shandong and the eastern province of Zhejiang, made up most of the 258 newly confirmed cases outside Hubei. Top officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks have been fired, authorities said on Friday.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 2,236 as of the end of Thursday, up by 118 from the previous day.

Chinese officials say the declining rate of new infections shows they are succeeding in keeping the virus contained to Hubei, with severe restrictions on travel and movement imposed at great cost to the world’s second-biggest economy.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged the apparent slowdown in Chinese infections but warned the flu-like virus could still spread rapidly in China and beyond.

“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” Tedros told reporters.

To date, 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to the WHO, and while that was very low compared with about 75,000 inside China, Tedros said: “That may not stay the same for long”.

Workers wearing face masks packing vegetables at Baishazhou market in Wuhan, Hubei on Feb 19, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese authorities on Thursday changed their methodology for reporting infections, creating new doubt about data they have cited as evidence their strategy is working.

Under the latest methodology, which excludes cases identified by chest X-rays, China reported fewer than 400 new cases over the past day, less than a quarter of the number it had been finding in recent days under the previous broader method.

Epidemiologists said there could be good reasons to adjust methodology to ensure best use of resources. No official tally was likely to record all cases.

South Korea reported 52 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, taking the national tally to 156, the Yonhap news agency said on Friday, citing health authorities.

The tally comes as the country reported its first death from the coronavirus on Thursday, amid growing fears of widespread infection.

South Korea’s fourth-largest city is the latest hotspot, with streets abandoned and residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the new coronavirus in what authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church.

The deserted shopping malls and cinemas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, became one of the most striking images outside China of an outbreak that international authorities are trying stop from becoming a global pandemic.

Resident Kim Geun-woo, 28, told Reuters by telephone: “It’s like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city. It looks like a zombie apocalypse.”

Meanwhile, Iranian health officials urged all religious gatherings to be suspended in Qom, news agency ISNA said on Thursday, after two more people tested positive for the coronavirus in the holy city, where two died of it this week.

Two Australians evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan had tested positive for the pathogen at a quarantine camp in the country’s far north and would be hospitalised near their homes, Australia’s health department said on Friday.

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