Coronavirus: Death toll hits 1,486 as Japan records first victim

Feb. 13 (UPI) — China’s Hubei Province on Friday announced an additional 4,823 new cases of COVID-19 over the previous 24-hours.

Of the new cases, 3,095 were “clinically diagnosed,” meaning patients who exhibit symptoms of the virus but have not been confirmed through a blood test to be infected.

The new diagnostic criteria was adopted Thursday and resulted in the province recording a nine-fold increase of nearly 15,000 new cases compared to Wednesday and more than 240 deaths from the virus.

World Health Organization officials said the spike in diagnoses was the result of health personnel in Hubei province using CT scans to confirm the presence of “lower respiratory infections.”

Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said that while there is more than one cause for such infections, the change in approach means patients can be treated for COVID-19 while awaiting confirmation from blood tests.

This, Ryan said, could help keep some patients from progressing to severe disease or from spreading it further. He said, however, that diagnoses outside of China continue to be based on blood tests.

On Friday, the province also recorded an additional 116 deaths, including eight clinically diagnosed cases, with 88 of them reported in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, raising the death toll for mainland China to at least 1,483.

The news comes after Japan reported its first death from the virus and the third outside of mainland China after two men died earlier this month in Hong Kong and the Philippines, raising the global death toll to 1,486.

Japan’s Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare said that a Kanagawawa Prefecture woman in her 80s died Thursday from the disease.

According to the ministry’s statement, the woman had no travel history but began to suffer symptoms from the virus on Jan. 22. She was admitted to the hospital Feb. 1 and she was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on the day of her death.

Japan also announced three other confirmed cases, none of whom had been to China within the virus’ 14-day incubation period prior to the onset of symptoms, increasing its number of confirmed cases to 30.

The ministry also announced an additional 44 cases of the coronavirus on its Diamond Princess vessel, which has been under quarantine in Yokohama port since early this month, bringing the total number of infected to 218 — the highest number of infected outside of China.

Health Minister Kastsunobu Kat told reporters Thursday that five passengers have been sent to the hospital with severe symptoms and were on artificial respirators.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it has asked the 3,700 passengers and crew on the ship to stay in their private rooms and that those with COVID-19 symptoms will be tested for the virus.

Many of the passengers on the ship are elderly and being confirmed to their windowless rooms may worsen chronic conditions and the ministry said it is working to have them relocated from the vessel to at a mainland accommodation until the 14-day quarantine has elapsed.

Princess Cruises confirmed in an update that Japanese health officials were planning a voluntary disembarkation for guests to finish their quartine on shore.

“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 ship has been moored off Japan’s coast since Feb. 3 after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month was later diagnosed with the virus.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has replaced key government figures, including its heads in Hubei, its capital city of Wuhan and at its office that overseas Hong Kong and Macau, in connection to the coronavirus.

The party said Thursday that Jiang Chaoliang, its secretary in Hubei, was fired for Ying Yong, and Ma Guoqiang, the party’s chief in Wuhan, was ousted and Wang Zhonglin would be taking over, China’s Global Times reported.

According to the state-run newspaper, their firings were over problems that were allegedly exposed by the ongoing outbreak that is believed to have emerged from a Wuhan seafood market in early December.

At China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Zhang Xiaoming was demoted to deputy director and Xia Baolong was appointed the office’s new director, the party said without offering an explanation.

China’s President Xi Jinping also approved Thursday the deployment of 2,600 additional medical personnel from the armed forces to two hospitals in Wuhan to treat patients carrying the disease, according to a statement carried by Xinhuanet.

The military has so far dispatched 4,000 support personnel in three batches to Wuhan, it said.

In Shiyan, the Hubei government implemented wartime control measures baring people from a single district from leaving their homes after 137 confirmed cases were diagnosed with the virus. Those who disobey the order will be detained, according to state-run media.