The number of novel coronavirus cases has risen to more than 64,000 worldwide, after China reported another major increase at the epicenter of the outbreak following a change in how authorities there diagnose cases.
As of Friday morning, over 100 more people had died of the virus, officially known as Covid-19, in central China’s Hubei province — raising the global death toll to 1,383. Of those, all but three have died in mainland China.
The latest toll reflected the removal of some deaths that had been double counted in Hubei, the health commission said. On Thursday, Chinese health officials had already reported 1,367 deaths.
Chinese health authorities also confirmed an additional 5,090 cases across the country. That’s a major spike, but nowhere near the 14,840 new cases reported Thursday — the largest single-day rise since the epidemic began.
The government explained the spike was due to a change in how cases are tabulated — the total will now include “clinically diagnosed cases” — people who demonstrate all the symptoms of Covid-19 but have either been unable to access a test or are believed to have falsely tested negative. The hope is that more people will be able to receive treatment by receiving this diagnosis.
The health system in Hubei, particularly in the capital Wuhan where the outbreak began, has struggled to handle the influx of patients, even with the help of several purpose-built hospitals dedicated to treating Covid-19. Provincial authorities said there are about 37,000 patients in hospital, 1,685 of whom are in critical condition.
More than 6,723 patients in China have recovered and been discharged since the outbreak began.
As the number of deaths and cases at the epicenter of the outbreak continued to rise, China moved to purge several officials in the region, replacing them with loyalists of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has now taken personal charge of the response.
State media announced Thursday that the Communist Party chiefs of Hubei and Wuhan had both been removed. Ying Yong, the former mayor of Shanghai, will become the new Hubei chief, while Wang Zhonglin will take over Wuhan itself. Ying is a key protege of Xi’s, and the two men have worked together since the early 2000s when they were both officials in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
Another Zhejiang veteran and Xi ally, Chen Yixin, is already in Wuhan. Chen arrived in the city last week to lead the response to the epidemic — his appointment there was seen as Xi moving to take charge of the crisis after it was mishandled in the early weeks by Wuhan and Hubei officials, who have been accused of downplaying the severity of the virus, resulting in its spread nationwide.
The removal of the Wuhan and Hubei party chiefs might only be the beginning of the provincial purge. Last week, amid nationwide outrage over the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang — who was reprimanded for spreading “rumors” by Wuhan police — Beijing dispatched an anti-corruption team to the city to investigate the matter.
Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang, one of the public faces of the crisis, previously offered to resign “to appease public indignation,” but the central government has yet to take him up on that.
At least 25 countries have confirmed cases and several nations have evacuated their citizens from Hubei. Three deaths have been recorded outside mainland China – one in Hong Kong one in the Philippines, and the most recent in Japan.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus poses a “grave threat” to the world, with chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the virus could have “more powerful consequences than any terrorist action”.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has ordered a lockdown on a community of 10,000 residents northwest of the capital Hanoi, becoming the first location outside of China to have ordered a quarantine for at least 20 days.