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Sharp rise in coronavirus deaths

By Christopher Owuor
Friday, February 14th, 2020
Parents and relatives of Pakistani students studying in Wuhan, China, protest in Lahore on Thursday demanding the government evacuate their loved ones. Photo/AFP
In summary

Beijing, Thursday

China’s official death toll from the new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern the epidemic is far worse than being reported.

Some 242 deaths from the new coronavirus were recorded in the Chinese province of Hubei on Wednesday - the deadliest day of the outbreak.

There was also a huge increase in the number of cases, with 14,840 people diagnosed with Covid-19.

Hubei has started using a broader definition to diagnose people - which accounts for most of the rise in cases.

Situation stabilising

Until Wednesday’s increases, the number of people with the virus in Hubei, where the outbreak emerged, was stabilising.

But the new cases and deaths in the province have pushed the national death toll above 1,350—with almost 60,000 infections in total.

As the figures soared in China, a troubling new front opened abroad as neighbouring Vietnam placed 10,000 people under quarantine after six COVID-19 cases were discovered in a cluster of villages—the first such lockdown overseas.

Under criticism at home over the handling of the crisis, China’s Communist Party sacked two top-ranking officials in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The developments came hours after President Xi Jinping claimed “positive results” from efforts to contain an epidemic that has now officially killed 1,367 people and infected nearly 60,000.

But the World Health Organisation warned it was too soon to declare victory.

“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 the WHO’s health emergencies programme.

Hubei authorities said the increases were because they had broadened their definition for infection to include people “clinically diagnosed” via lung imaging.

Up until now, they had solely confirmed cases with a more sophisticated laboratory test. Health officials said they looked into past suspected cases and revised their diagnoses, suggesting older cases were also included in Thursday’s numbers.  -Agencies

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