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February 14, 2020

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Toll soars with new way of counting

Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, reported a record rise in deaths and thousands more infections using a broader case definition yesterday.

Officials said 242 people died in the central province on Wednesday, the biggest daily rise since the flu-like virus emerged in its capital Wuhan in December.

Another 14,840 new cases were reported in the province yesterday, from 2,015 new cases nationwide a day earlier. But excluding cases confirmed using the new methods, the number of new cases rose by only 1,508.

The dramatic rise appeared largely due to methodology.

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

But it has also begun using computerized tomography scans, which give images of the lungs, the Hubei health commission said, to identify cases and isolate them faster.

“It is our current understanding that the new case definition widens the net, and includes not only lab-confirmed cases but also clinically diagnosed cases based on symptoms and exposure,” World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

The new method is only being used in Hubei.

Officials in a district in the province’s Shiyan City have introduced “wartime measures” for the next 14 days, banning anyone not directly involved in tackling the disease from leaving their homes, a government notice said.

Buildings and residential areas in the district were closed off yesterday, with security personnel carrying out 24-hour monitoring. Those who break the rules will be “detained without exception.”

The notice read: “Residents without prior approval are forbidden from leaving their home, building or residential compound.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories.

Japan yesterday became the third place outside China’s mainland to suffer a fatality.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference that a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture, which borders Tokyo, had died. She was the first fatality in Japan, and the third outside mainland China.

The woman fell ill in January but only later showed symptoms of pneumonia and was hospitalized, then transferred to another hospital when her condition worsened.

Her infection with the virus was confirmed after her death, Kato said.

The minister also confirmed that a Tokyo taxi driver in his 70s had tested positive for the virus, along with a doctor in central Japan. A third person, also a taxi driver, in Chiba just east of Tokyo has also tested positive.

The biggest cluster outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, where 44 more cases were reported yesterday, taking the total to 219, though authorities said some elderly people would finally to be allowed to disembark today.


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