Latest data from Hubei suggests infection surge was one-off

Previously, patients with symptoms found via CT scans couldn’t be diagnosed as positive without an additional nucleic acid test. (AP pic)

BEIJING: The Chinese province at the centre of the novel coronavirus outbreak added 4,823 more confirmed cases on Friday, suggesting that a surprise surge in cases reported the day before was a one-off event.

Friday’s increase in the Hubei case-load was much lower than the 14,840 added to the count on Thursday, after the bar was lowered for official diagnosis.

The new tally, the first daily count under the new methodology, sets a new benchmark to measure the outbreak.

Among the new cases reported from Hubei province on Friday, 3,095 were diagnosed using CT scans – the new testing method – while the rest were confirmed with the traditional diagnostic process that uses nucleic acid tests.

116 deaths were added to the Hubei toll, including eight that were diagnosed under the new method, according to a daily report published by the central Chinese province’s health commission.

“The increase in case numbers means it’s very difficult to contain the virus for now but the silver lining is we now have a clearer view of the real situation in Hubei,” said Yang Gonghuan, former deputy director general of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

A top World Health Organization official said that the new Chinese cases reported Thursday were older and don’t represent a sudden surge in new infections.

“Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks, in some cases back to beginning out of the outbreak itself,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme, at a press briefing on Thursday.

“This increase you’ve seen in the last 24 hours is largely down to how cases are being diagnosed and reported.”

The inclusion of CT scan-diagnosed patients on Thursday triggered a 45% surge in the number of cases in Hubei, raising doubts that the epidemic that emerged from Wuhan, the provincial capital, in December is coming under control.

Before Thursday, the Hubei case tally had been steadily decreasing.

Previously, many patients with pneumonia-like symptoms found via CT scans couldn’t be diagnosed as positive without an additional nucleic acid test, which identifies the virus in a patient’s body through its specific genetic sequence.

In recognition of the widely reported unreliability and shortage of nucleic acid tests, China’s National Health Commission had asked Hubei to start counting patients diagnosed only through CT scans in the latest update of its treatment guidelines released on Feb 5.

It is unclear why Hubei health authorities only started disclosing that number a week later, on Feb 13.