Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei say 254 more people have died from the new coronavirus, and they announced a huge increase in the number of cases.
Health officials in Hubei, the epicenter of the 2-month-old outbreak that has killed 1,367 people in all of China, said they changed their detection methods from a laboratory test to computerized body scans.
The news of new deaths and infections came a day after China said the number of new cases had dropped for a second consecutive day.
The changes in detection methods have boosted the number of total confirmed cases across China to about 60,000, and by an additional 15,000 to more than 48,000 in Hubei province, where the death toll was raised by 242.
World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters Thursday the increase in the number of new cases reflects a “broader definition” of a coronavirus diagnosis and that his organization wants China to provide “further clarity” about the new methodology.
WHO health emergencies program director Michael Ryan told reporters in Geneva Thursday the new, higher numbers do “not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak,” but rather “a change in how the cases are being reported.”
The outbreak has led to the firing of Jiang Chaoliang as the ruling Communist Party chief in Hubei, just days after the province's top two health officials were removed from their posts. The official Xinhua news agency says former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong will replace Jiang, who had been criticized by the public for his handling of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
The virus is believed to have emerged late last year at a seafood market in the city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei.
The Vietnamese government ordered the lockdown of a village of 10,000 people Thursday, official media reported, making it the first country except China to impose a mass quarantine. Checkpoints were established in Son Loi, located northwest of the capital of Hanoi. An increase in cases has been reported in Son Loi.
In Japan, officials say an 80-year-old woman who died in a hospital on the outskirts of Tokyo has become the nation's first coronavirus fatality. She was the third person to die of the virus outside of China, with the other fatalities occurring in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
The news comes as 44 more people aboard a cruise ship docked off the Japanese coast have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 218.
The Diamond Princess has been under quarantine since last week, following word that a former passenger who had disembarked in Hong Kong had tested positive for the disease, known also as COVID-19. All passengers have been confined to their cabins and will not be allowed to leave the ship until Feb. 19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that a 15th case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States. The person, along with other evacuated U.S. citizens, arrived at an Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 7 aboard a State Department-chartered flight from China. The person is being treated at an area hospital.
“There will likely be additional cases in the coming days and weeks, including among other people recently returned from Wuhan,” the CDC said in a statement.
Meanwhile, another cruise ship, the Westerdam, finally docked Thursday in the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, ending a two-week-long saga that saw the ship being turned away by Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines because of unsubstantiated fears that someone on board was infected.
A team of health officials will board the ship to conduct health checks on the 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members before they will be allowed to disembark.
The outbreak is also wreaking havoc on regional sporting events. World Rugby says the Singapore and Hong Kong rounds of the popular Sevens Series have been moved from April until October. The two events are among the many sporting events that are either being postponed or canceled, including the World Track and Field Championships scheduled for next month in the Chinese city of Nanjing.
But Yoshiro Mori, president of the organizing committee of this year's Tokyo Olympics, told reporters Thursday the committee is not considering postponing or canceling the Games, which begin in July.
The death toll from the coronavirus is higher than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened nearly 8,100 in China and Hong Kong.