BEIJING: The Chinese province at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record increase in the death toll on Thursday, as global health experts warned that the epidemic could get worse long before it is controlled.
Health officials in Hubei province said 242 people died from the flu-like virus on Wednesday, the fastest increase in the daily count since the pathogen was identified in December, and raising the total number of deaths in the province at 1,310.
The new count came one day after China reported its lowest number of new cases of coronavirus in two weeks, which strengthens the prognosis of Beijing’s chief medical advisor for the outbreak to end in April.
But the 2,015 new confirmed cases reported in mainland China on Wednesday were overshadowed by the 14,840 new cases reported only in Hubei on Thursday, when provincial authorities said they had adopted a new methodology for counting infections.
It was not immediately clear how the new methodology affected the results, nor why the death toll increased so strongly.
The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that any apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be considered with “extreme caution.”
“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he said in an information session in Geneva.
Another expert said that while the coronavirus may be reaching its peak in China, this was not the case elsewhere.
“It has spread to other places where the outbreak is beginning,” said Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by WHO, in an interview in Singapore. “In Singapore, we are at the beginning.”
Singapore has 50 cases, including one found in its largest bank, DBS (DBSM.SI), on Wednesday that caused an evacuation in the central office.
Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories, but only two people have died from the virus outside of mainland China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
The largest group of cases outside of China is on a quarantined cruise ship in front of the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 175 of the approximately 3,700 people on board who tested positive.
The ship’s operator, Carnival Corp (CCL.N), is among the foreign companies that were affected by the outbreak, with many flights suspended and business interrupted.
Planemaker Boeing (PROHIBITION) said the airlines faced a fall in profits as the crisis reduces the demand for passengers and prolongs the weakness in economically sensitive air transport.
Shipments worldwide have also been affected when shipyards in China, one of the largest shipbuilders, struggle to return to work completely.
There was a happy ending in sight for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines had refused to dock for fear that one of its 1,455 passengers and the 802 crew could have the virus.
Cambodia agreed to let it land, Holland America Line said.
“This is an example of international solidarity that we have been constantly asking for,” said the head of the WHO, Tedros. “Outbreaks can bring out the best and worst of people.”
It is suspected that the outbreak originated in the capital of Hubei Province, Wuhan, in December. The city of 11 million people remains under virtual blockade, and other large Chinese cities face severe travel restrictions.
The last major event that was canceled, moved or postponed was the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix, originally scheduled for Shanghai on April 19.