Coronavirus death toll nears 1,400 in China, with 5,090 new cases

China has reported another sharp rise in the number of people infected with the killer coronavirus, with the death toll now nearing 1,400. 

The National Health Commission said 121 more deaths were recorded yesterday, as well as 5,090 new confirmed cases.

The number of reported cases has been rising more quickly after the hardest-hit province changed its method of counting them. 

There are now almost 64,000 confirmed cases in mainland China, of which 1,380 have died, according to the national body.

Hubei province is now including cases based on a physician’s diagnosis and before they have been confirmed by lab tests.  

The acceleration in the number of cases does not necessarily represent a sudden surge in new infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Chinese military medics arrive at the Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province

Chinese military medics arrive at the Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province

Chinese military medics arrive at the Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province

A nurse tears up as she talks about the situation in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

A nurse tears up as she talks about the situation in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

A nurse tears up as she talks about the situation in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

Medical workers check on the conditions of patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

Medical workers check on the conditions of patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

Medical workers check on the conditions of patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan

Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘I suspect but can’t be certain that the underlying trend is still downwards.

‘It almost certainly does not mean that there has been a resurgence of the epidemic overnight.’

The sharp rises is thought to have been caused by a change in the way doctors in Hubei province are diagnosing the virus.

Officials decided that people who have virus symptoms, plus a CT scan showing chest infection, are now being counted as confirmed cases.

Cases were previously only being confirmed using specialized testing kits in a laboratory.

But authorities have had to switch to the broader diagnostic tools because they are running out of the kits and hundreds of patients are going untested. 

It raises the prospect that deaths and infections could have been much higher if medics were using this method all along. 

And it could mean that going forward, more cases will be reported every day in the Chinese province.

China’s Health Commission has said the change was aimed at identifying suspected cases in which the patient has pneumonia.

This would allow them to be treated more quickly and reduce the likelihood of more serious illness or death.

Experts also saw it as a reflection of a chaotic crush of people seeking treatment and the struggle to keep up with a backlog of untested samples in Hubei province.  

Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease specialist based at the University of Edinburgh, said Wuhan is under ‘extreme pressure’.

Elsewhere, Japan confirmed another case, a Japanese man in his 70s, a day after it reported its first death from the virus. 

Japan now has 252 confirmed cases, including 218 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama.

More than 560 cases have been confirmed outside China and three deaths, one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong and a Japanese woman in her 80s. 

In an unprecedented attempt to contain the disease, the Chinese government has placed the hardest-hit cities – home to more than 60 million – under lockdown. 

People are restricted from entering or leaving the cities, and in many places can only leave their homes or residential complexes for shopping and other daily needs. 

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