China's official death toll from an outbreak of COVID-19 yesterday spiked dramatically after authorities changed their counting methods, fueling concern that the epidemic is far worse than being reported.
China reported a sharp spike in deaths and infections from a new virus after the hardest-hit province of Hubei applied a new classification system that broadens the scope of diagnoses for the outbreak, which has spread to more than 20 countries. The daily death toll nearly halved when compared to Wednesday's 14,840.
According to China's Global Times, the numbers of novel coronavirus infections reported on daily basis outside epicentre Hubei Province declined for the 10th consecutive day as reported on Friday, with 267 new cases.
Almost 64,000 people are now recorded as having been made ill by the virus in China, with the last two days showing a steep rise after a change in diagnostic methods.
"Clearly in Wuhan, the health system is under extreme pressure and so the first priority has to be the patient", said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.
In Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, where tens of millions of people have been trapped as part of an unprecedented quarantine effort, 242 new deaths were reported yesterday.
Japan confirmed its first death from the virus on Thursday.
Thursday's changes follow the sacking of two top health officials in Hubei on Tuesday, the Communist Party secretary and director of the province's health commission.
As of Friday, the number of reported cases outside of China were Japan (203), Hong Kong (53), Singapore (50), Thailand (33), South Korea (28), Taiwan (18), Malaysia (18), Germany (16), Vietnam (16), Australia (15), the USA (14), France (11), Macau (10), the United Kingdom (nine), the UAE (eight), Canada (seven), India (three), the Philippines (three), Italy (three), Russian Federation (two), Spain (two), Cambodia (one), Finland (one), Nepal (one), Sri Lanka (one), Sweden (one) and Belgium (one), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
"Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself", Dr Ryan told a news conference at World Health Organization headquarters. Wuhan residents said hospitals were overcrowded and lacked sufficient medical supplies.
Many critically sick patients with symptoms but no confirmation of infection had complained that they were being turned away from hospitals.
"This increase you've all seen in the last 24 hours is largely down to how cases are being diagnosed and reported", he said, noting that the jump in infections refers to patients that go back days and weeks, including to the beginning of the outbreak.
Passengers on another cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over coronavirus fears started disembarking in Cambodia on Friday.