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Coronavirus cases rise in China, Japan confirms 1st death from virus

The latest: 

  • China’s National Health Commission puts death toll from coronavirus outbreak at 1,367, up 254 from a day earlier.
  • Case numbers in mainland China rise by 15,152, for a total of 59,805.
  • WHO seeking “further clarity” from China on new case definition, which “widens the net.”
  • Japan confirms 1st death linked to coronavirus.
  • Shanghai’s former mayor to serve as top party official in hard-hit Hubei province as health officials struggle to deal with cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by a novel coronavirus.
  • Princess Cruises says Japan to proceed with “phased” process allowing passengers to leave ship, complete quarantine on land. 
  • Risk in Canada still low, public health officials say. WATCH: What we actually know about the coronavirus

A jump in the number of new cases of coronavirus in China reflects a “broader definition” of a case of infection, a World Health Organization official said on Thursday.

“It is our current understanding that the new case definition widens the net, and includes not only lab-confirmed cases but also clinically diagnosed cases based on symptoms and exposure,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters. He said the Geneva-based United Nations health agency was seeking “further clarity” from China about recent updates to its case definition and reporting protocol for the coronavirus disease outbreak.

On Thursday, China’s National Health Commission said the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the country reached 1,367 as of the end of Wednesday, up 254 from the previous day. Across mainland China, there were 15,152 new confirmed infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 59,805.

On Thursday, Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death — an 80-year-old woman who lived in an area that borders on Tokyo, health officials said.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato says the woman had been treated at a hospital near Tokyo since early February after developing symptoms. Her infection was confirmed after her death. 

Top officials in Wuhan and Hubei replaced

People inside China and around the world have raised questions about the initial response to the coronavirus outbreak.

China’s Communist Party has replaced the party heads in the coronavirus-stricken province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan, state media said on Thursday. The pair are the most high-profile officials to lose their posts following the epidemic.

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Shanghai’s former mayor Ying Yong has been appointed as the new secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, replacing Jiang Chaoliang, the official Xinhua news agency said without explaining why Jiang was removed.

Ying worked closely with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the latter’s time as party boss and governor of Zhejiang province. He pledged to contain the outbreak in the region that has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, the  province’s official newspaper reported on Thursday. 

Wuhan party chief Ma Guoqiang has also been removed, Xinhua reported separately. He has been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, party boss of Jinan city in eastern Shandong province.

Officials in Hubei have been heavily criticized for their handling of the epidemic in a province of almost 60 million people. The outbreak began in Wuhan late last year, and has spread throughout China.

New diagnostic method introduced

The sharp increases came after Hubei authorities said they had introduced using a new, quicker diagnostic method using computerized tomography (CT) scans, which health authorities said had diagnosed 13,332 of the new infections.

The CT scans reveal lung infections, the Hubei health commission said, and enable confirmation and faster isolation of new virus cases.

Hubei authorities had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days to process. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for identification of organisms like viruses.

Case numbers rise in Vietnam

Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on recent visitors to China, which has more than 99 per cent of the world’s reported infections.

In Vietnam, official media reported that a commune of 10,000 residents northwest of the capital Hanoi was put in lockdown due to a cluster of cases there.

The online newspaper VN Express cited a senior official of Ving Phuc province as reporting an increase in cases in Son Loi commune. Vietnam has confirmed 16 cases of the disease, most of them in Son Loi. 

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A report in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed a woman who wasn’t showing symptoms triggered a chain of coronavirus infections. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains how the report got it wrong. 3:25

Meanwhile, Japan’s health ministry announced Thursday that 44 more people on a cruise ship quarantined in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, have tested positive for COVID-19. The ship has 218 infections among its 3,700 passengers and crew.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters five of the patients who were already sent to hospitals for isolation and treatment of COVID-19 have severe symptoms and are on artificial respirators or under intensive care.

Princess Cruises, which operates the Diamond Princess, said in a statement Thursday that Japanese health officials are planning to allow passengers to disembark and complete their quarantine in a facility on land. The timing of when guests would be allowed off the ship was not immediately clear.

“From the information available it is our understanding that this will be a phased approach, with the most medically vulnerable guests in the first phase, including older adults with pre-existing health conditions,” the cruise company said.   

Another cruise ship, the Westerdam, finally anchored Thursday off Cambodia after being turned away by several Asian and Pacific governments. No cases of the viral illness have been confirmed among its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members, according to operator Holland America Line.

Thailand refused to allow the Westerdam to dock this week after it had already been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Guam over virus concerns.

The Westerdam began its cruise in Singapore last month and its last stop before it was refused further landings was in Hong Kong, where 50 cases of the viral disease have been confirmed.

A Vietnamese health official wearing a protective suit amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak sprays disinfectant on a motorcyle at a checkpoint in Son Loi commune in Vinh Phuc province on Thursday. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images)

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