The Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in deaths and thousands more infections using a broader definition on Thursday, while Japan became the third place outside mainland China to suffer a fatality.
The epidemic has given China’s ruling Communist Party one of its sternest challenges in years, constrained the world’s second largest economy and triggered a purge of provincial bureaucrats.
With China’s streets, restaurants and flower markets bare, a miserable Valentine’s Day was expected on Friday.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death – a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo – adding to two previous fatalities in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Japan is one of the worst affected of more than two dozen other countries and territories that have seen hundreds of infections from the flu-like sickness.
The Japanese woman fell ill in January but only later showed symptoms of pneumonia and was hospitalised, with coronavirus confirmed after her death and the contagion route under investigation, the health minister said.
However, the big jump in China’s reported cases reflects a decision by authorities there to reclassify a backlog of suspected cases by using patients’ chest images, and is not necessarily the “tip of an iceberg” of a wider epidemic, a top World Health Organisation official said on Thursday.
Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, said that more than 14,000 new cases reported in Hubei province overnight came after a change to include results from quicker computerised tomography (CT) scans that reveal lung infections, rather than relying just on laboratory tests to confirm cases.