A worker in protective suit serves customers at a checkout counter of a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Wednesday. Photo: China Daily via REUTERS

Coronavirus death toll leaps in China's Hubei province; party bosses sacked

By Winni Zhou and Dominique Patton

The Chinese province at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in the death toll on Thursday under a new diagnostic method, and Beijing sacked two local leaders after criticism of their handling of the crisis.

Health officials in Hubei province said 242 people had died from the flu-like virus on Wednesday, the fastest rise in the daily count since the pathogen was identified in December, and bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,310. The previous highest daily rise in the toll was 103 on Feb. 10.

Reports in state-run media said provincial Communist Party boss Jiang Chaoliang had been sacked as secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee, and Ma Guoqiang had been removed as party chief in the provincial capital Wuhan.

The reports did not state a reason for the dismissals, but the two are the most high-profile Chinese officials to date to be removed from duty following the coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan late last yet.

"Thank you Communist Party. It should have been done earlier," Wuhan resident Wang You told Reuters.

Dozens of low-level health officials across the country have also lost their jobs for failing to contain the spread of the epidemic, which is believed to have emerged from a seafood market in Wuhan where wildlife was traded illegally.

The spike in the death toll came a day after China had reported its lowest number of new cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by the country's senior medical adviser that the epidemic could end by April.

Another 14,840 cases were reported in Hubei alone on Thursday, from 2,015 nationwide a day earlier, after provincial officials started using computerised tomography (CT) scans to look for signs of the virus.

Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days to process. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for identification of organisms like viruses.

Using quicker CT scans that reveal lung infections would help patients receive treatment as soon as possible and improve their chances of recovery, the Hubei health commission said.

The new diagnostic procedure could explain the spike in the death toll, according to Raina McIntyre, head of biosecurity research at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

"Presumably, there are deaths which occurred in people who did not have a lab diagnosis but did have a CT. It is important that these also be counted," she told Reuters.

The new testing methodology is only being used in Hubei province so far, Chinese officials said.


Asian stock markets wobbled and the safe-havens of the Japanese yen, gold and bonds rose after the new Hubei numbers dashed hopes the epidemic was stabilising and the Chinese economy could bounce back quickly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday the number of cases of infection in China had stabilized but it was too early to say the epidemic was slowing.

"This outbreak could still go in any direction," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.

Experts say a vaccine could still be months away.

The latest toll from Hubei pushes the number of deaths in mainland China past 1,350, with about 60,000 confirmed cases.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories, but only two people have died from the virus outside mainland China - one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, where a further 44 cases were reported on Thursday. So far, 219 of about 3,700 people on board have tested positive.

There was a happy ending for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which docked in Cambodia after being denied docking rights in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines over fears one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew might have the virus, even though none had tested positive.

"This morning, just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment," Angela Jones, an American tourist on the ship, told Reuters. "I thought: Is this real?"

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, remains under virtual lockdown, and other major Chinese cities are facing severe travel restrictions.

United Airlines said it would extend cancellations of all U.S. flights to China through late April, meaning all U.S. passenger carriers flying to China had now cancelled flights into late April.

The move is the latest disruption to international travel that has paralysed businesses and played havoc with major conferences and sporting events.

The Mobile World Congress, an annual telecoms industry gathering that draws more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona, was cancelled on Wednesday after a mass exodus by exhibitors due to coronavirus-related concerns.

The Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, originally set for Shanghai on April 19, was postponed, as was Singapore's annual rugby sevens tournament scheduled for April 11-12, a source familiar with the matter said.

Hong Kong extended the suspension of schools till at least March 16 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the city, where 50 cases have been confirmed.

In Taiwan, which has reported only 18 cases of the virus, cabinet proposed a $2 billion package to help the economy deal with the impact of the epidemic.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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An excellent article by Winni Zhou and Dominique Patton -- very wide-ranging and comprehensive.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

This coming on the heels of the firing of officials in the province.

Why am I not surprised that the "numbers" have been artificially been kept low by the propaganda ministry in China?

If this continues for the next couple of months, the discussions about holding the Olympics or not here will start showing up!

7 ( +10 / -3 )

If this continues for the next couple of months, the discussions about holding the Olympics or not here will start showing up!

This of course will continue for the next coming months. SARS lasted around 8 months and it was far less contagious than this strain is. This strain is not going anywhere anytime soon.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks!

Highest death count yet!

Two headlines I've seen for the same story. New cases peaked and are now in decline. It takes a week or so for the outcome (recovery or death, so it makes sense that that peaks later. The overall is that maybe, just maybe, we are over the hump. Not time to let the guard down, but things are looking positive. (the scary headline gets more clicks, though).

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Taj, read the article again the number of cases has jumped on Thursday after new reporting. So there is no decrease in number of cases. Also, the death toll is ever increasing. This looks to get a lot worse before there is any improvement!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

What they do not mention is what confirmed cases means. Confirmed = two positive reverse transcriptase real time polymerase chain reaction tests. That obviously is just the lower bound for how many cases, since most patients cannot possibly get that test due to the limited testing capability in the small number of labs with the machines needed.

Hopefully those individuals who are within the 14 day incubation period are not shedding large amounts of virus and highly infectious prior to exhibiting identifiable symptoms like fever. That may permit minimizing the toll among those at greatest risk (immuno-compromised, very old, very young, etc.) by isolation of symptomatic patients until the infection resolves.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Does anyone believe what China reports or says?

Their information is often misleading at best we all know that.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Asian stock markets wobbled and the safe-havens of the Japanese yen

I'm convinced that the Japanese archipelago could completely sink and currency traders will still be calling the JYen a "safe haven".

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Yes, sacking the party bosses will solve everything.  Because the outbreak is clearly their fault.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Does anyone believe what China reports or says?

Their information is often misleading at best we all know that.

I certainly don't, and nor do Chinese people. However, today's numbers are probably more accurate than yesterday's.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

242 people in one day (what is being admitted to) is tremendous.

I pray for the people of China and for their sake I hope this will get better.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Helpful website on data

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And yet, China still does not accept a CDC invitation to come and help. Climate change, nuclear war, Donald Trump, et al. will not destroy the human race, it is after all, big surprise, the commies.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

All of China needs to be put on an international travel ban. Only way to stop this thing. 14,000 infected in one day!! This is getting scary now.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Pretty rough a beauracrat being sacked for failing to stop a virus epidemic...even scientists are going to need as much as 18 months to develop the vaccine.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The real person who should be sacked for the criminal handling of this disaster is the self appointed King Xi. It has been a tragic debacle from the start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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