The Chinese province at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in the death toll on Thursday, as global health experts warned the epidemic could get far worse before it is brought under control.
Health officials in Hubei province said 242 people had died from the flu-like virus on Wednesday, the fastest rise in the daily count since the pathogen was identified in December, and bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,310. The previous record rise in the toll was 103 on Feb. 10.
The grim new tally came a day after China had reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by Beijing’s senior medical adviser for the outbreak there to end by April.
But the 2,015 new confirmed cases reported in mainland China on Wednesday was dwarfed by the 14,840 new cases reported in Hubei alone on Thursday, when provincial officials 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 rose so sharply.
Asian stock markets wobbled and the safe-havens of the Japanese yen, gold and bonds rose after the Hubei numbers were reported.
Results from Chinese trials testing a combination of antiviral drugs used to treat HIV against the new coronavirus are due in weeks, but experts say a vaccine could still be months away.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned any apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with “extreme caution”.
“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he told a briefing in Geneva.
Another expert said that while the coronavirus may be peaking in China, this was not the case elsewhere.
“It has spread to other places where it’s the beginning of the outbreak,” Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said in an interview in Singapore. “In Singapore, we are at the beginning.”
Singapore has 50 cases, including one found at its biggest bank, DBS, on Wednesday that caused an evacuation at the head 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 mainland China, one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.