Hubei Province, center of the novel coronavirus outbreak, reported 14,840 new confirmed cases and 242 new deaths Wednesday, the highest daily increases so far, after the diagnosis criteria for confirmed COVID-19 cases were further loosened for timely treatment of more patients.
Hubei province is ground zero of new coronavirus that continues to kill dozens on nearly a daily basis.
Officials explained the uptick Thursday by saying they had reclassified how they were diagnosing and counting cases of COVID-19.
Most of the cases have been in Hubei, where about 56 million people have been placed under virtual quarantine. The Hubei province accounts for more than 80% overall cases of coronavirus.
"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", World Health Organization spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters. The outbreak began in Wuhan late past year, and has spread throughout China, killing more than 1,000 and infecting tens of thousands across the country. Doctors who tried to share information early on were reprimanded by police for "spreading rumours".
Other changes have been taking place in the province, including the sacking of a top Red Cross official in Wuhan for dereliction of duty and the removal of health officials in other cities.
The latest report brought the total confirmed cases in the hard-hit province to 48,206.
The spike in the death toll came a day after markets were cheered when China reported its lowest number of new cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by the country's senior medical adviser that the epidemic could end by April. The team is here to "discuss specific arrangements for the China-WHO joint mission with the Chinese side", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily online briefing.
On Thursday, following the release of the new figures, Chinese state media announced that the party secretary of Hubei province, Jiang Chaoliang, was sacked and would be replaced by the mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong.
Health officials in the country have been using a new method to identify cases of COVID-19 , the disease which is caused by the coronavirus.
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.
The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan's port of Yokohama, with about 3,700 people on board.
There was a happy ending in sight for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines had refused to let dock over fears one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew might have the virus.