BEIJING — Health authorities in China’s Hubei province reported 14,840 new cases of coronavirus Thursday, bringing the nationwide total to nearly 60,000.
The daily count for Hubei — the epicenter of the epidemic — was more than nine times the 1,638 new infections reported there a day earlier.
The new numbers don’t indicate rapid overnight spread of the virus in Hubei, but a change in the way patients are counted there.
Under new reporting requirements, cases are considered confirmed based on symptoms and a CT scan of the lungs.
Previously, confirmation depended on a laboratory test — a time-consuming requirement that left a large backlog of untested, suspected cases.
Many critically sick patients with symptoms but no confirmation of infection had complained that they were being turned away from hospitals. An unknown number have died from the viral disease — known as COVID-19 — without ever having been recorded as a confirmed case.
Nearly 90% of the new cases reported Thursday were “clinically diagnosed” patients, meaning they were confirmed under the new rules.
Wang Chen, dean of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, told Chinese media Thursday that the change in requirements was “extremely necessary” because the laboratory test — which detects a particular sequence of nucleic acids — was not accurate enough.
Chinese authorities had been projecting optimism in recent days about the virus coming under control, pointing to a steady decrease in the rate of new confirmations.
The new numbers in Hubei appear to burst that bubble, bringing official statistics closer to reality.
It’s also possibly good news for many of the sick in Wuhan, the Hubei capital where the outbreak began, who have been unable to access hospitals without confirmed diagnoses — though there is still an urgent shortage of facilities, staff and medicals supplies.
The change in reporting requirements has only been implemented in Hubei province.
Hubei also reported 242 new deaths. The worldwide death toll now exceeds 1,300.