China again alters the methodology for counting coronavirus cases, as death toll rises to 2,118.
For the second time in a week, China on Thursday changed its criteria for confirming coronavirus cases, throwing into confusion the methodology that the country at the heart of the outbreak uses to track transmissions and resulting in a dramatic decrease in new infections.
The new criteria exclude patients from Hubei Province, the hardest-hit area of the outbreak, who are diagnosed using clinical methods, including CT scans and an assessment of symptoms. Instead, patients there would be counted as having contracted the virus only when confirmed by a specialized nucleic acid test.
Using the new criteria, officials in the province on Thursday recorded 349 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total national figures to 74,576. New deaths rose by 114 on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 2,118.
In its sixth iteration of a diagnosis regime, the government said it would differentiate between “suspected” and “confirmed” cases from now on. Cases would only be considered confirmed after genetic testing.
Such tests are notoriously difficult to conduct and the results are often wrong. It takes at least two days to process the results of the test.
The change has caused confusion among public health experts, who said it is now extra difficult to track the outbreak in China.
“For an epidemiologist, it’s really frustrating when case definitions keep on changing,” said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong. “Why can’t they work out what’s a probable, suspected and confirmed case? It’s totally confusing.”
Last week, the government switched to counting cases based on diagnoses made in clinical settings, including scanning patients’ lungs, in an effort to more quickly isolate and treat patients.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
What is a Coronavirus?
It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How contagious is the virus?
According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
How worried should I be?
While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
Who is working to contain the virus?
World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
What if I’m traveling?
The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
How do I keep myself and others safe?
Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
As a result, however, the country may have overcounted cases because lung scans are an imperfect means to diagnose patients. Even patients with ordinary seasonal flu may develop pneumonia visible on a lung scan.
Japan records deaths of two passengers who had been aboard a quarantined cruise ship.
Two passengers from the cruise ship quarantined in Japan have died after contracting the new coronavirus, the first deaths among the more than 600 people on board who have been infected, a Japanese health ministry official said on Thursday.
The two people, both Japanese, were an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, the Japanese broadcaster NHK reported. They were taken to hospitals on Feb. 11 and 12, and both had underlying health issues, the broadcaster said. No other information about them was immediately available.
Hundreds of passengers have begun disembarking from the ship, the Diamond Princess, after Japan declared the two-week quarantine over, even as cases of the virus on the vessel have continued to rise.
The authorities have said they are releasing only people who have tested negative for the virus and are showing no symptoms. But experts on infectious diseases have pointed to deficiencies in the quarantine protocols on the ship and questioned the decision to let them go free.
The first coronavirus patient in the United States has recovered.
A 35-year-old man from Washington State who last month became the first confirmed coronavirus patient in the United States has made a full recovery, health officials in Snohomish County, Wash., said on Wednesday.
Since his discharge from the hospital about three weeks ago, the man has remained at home and in isolation at the request of local health officials. He was supplied with groceries, and on Valentine’s Day was given a cupcake.
But after consulting with state and federal officials, the Snohomish Health District concluded that it was safe to release him from all restrictions.
“He is now considered fully recovered and free to go about his regular activities,” Snohomish officials said in a statement. “We cannot thank him enough for his patience and cooperation throughout the entire process.”
The man tested positive for the virus after returning to his home in Snohomish County, Wash., after visiting family in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. He was admitted to an isolation unit at Providence Regional Medical Center, where his condition worsened before improving.
Nine days after his symptoms started, an X-ray revealed pneumonia, according to a description of his case published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He received an experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir on a compassionate basis, which the Food and Drug Administration allows for drugs not yet federally approved.
U.S.-China relations were already fraying. The outbreak has damaged them further.
The coronavirus epidemic has become the latest and potentially most divisive issue driving apart the United States and China. For the fiercest critics of China within the Trump administration, panic over the coronavirus has provided a new opening to denounce the rule of the Communist Party, which they say cannot be trusted.
But the hard-liners’ message has been undermined at times by President Trump, who has publicly commended President Xi Jinping’s handling of the crisis and even called for greater commercial ties, including the sale of jet engines to China.
“Look,’’ Mr. Trump said on Tuesday, “I know this: President Xi loves the people of China, he loves his country, and he’s doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”
It has become a staple of the Trump administration: sending mixed messages that reflect a good-cop-bad-cop tactic, a real internal disagreement over policy or simply the caprice of the president. But over all, the most hawkish voices on China have dominated the conversation, lashing out at Beijing as it reels from one challenge after another — a trade war with Washington, protests in Hong Kong and now the struggle to contain the coronavirus.
Mr. Trump’s conciliatory comments this week might be an effort to defuse tensions and keep the U.S. economy humming as he faces re-election. That approach is backed by a pro-trade faction led by Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, which advocates close ties between the world’s two largest economies.
Whether it is because of the assertiveness of the hard-liners, the ambiguities fueled by the competing messages or Beijing’s policies, the relationship between the United States and China has become so strained and unpredictable that even the need for a united effort to address a global health crisis has not overcome the suspicions that have increasingly taken root on both sides.
Reporting and research was contributed by Russell Goldman, Sui-Lee Wee, Steven Lee Myers, Elaine Yu, Tiffany May, Edward Wong, Makiko Inoue and Eimi Yamamitsu.