China’s coronavirus spike not necessarily indicative of new trajectory, World Health Organisation says


February 14, 2020 10:32:50

Cases of coronavirus are not rising dramatically outside China apart from in passengers on a cruise liner now quarantined off a Japanese port, according to a senior World Health Organisation [WHO] official.

Key points:

  • The WHO says the spike in Chinese cases goes back days and weeks
  • It does not believe cases are significantly on the rise outside of China
  • The biggest spike in cases outside China is on the Diamond Princess cruise ship

Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program, said a spike of some 14,000 cases in China reported on Thursday was a result of authorities reclassifying a backlog of cases using patients’ chest images, and not necessarily the “tip of an iceberg” of a wider epidemic.

“Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself,” Dr Ryan told a news conference at WHO headquarters.

“We’ve seen this spike in the number of cases reported in China, but this does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.”

WHO figures released earlier on Thursday had shown China reporting a total of 46,550 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in December.

No significant shifts in mortality or severity patterns have been detected.

Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England, expressed frustration with the revised numbers from China, but said he believed it did not represent an increase in the rate of infections.

“I suspect but can’t be certain that the underlying trend is still downwards,” Professor Hunter said.

“It almost certainly does not mean that there has been a resurgence of the epidemic overnight.”

A further 44 cases were reported on the Diamond Princess cruise ship at dock in Japan, bringing the total to 219, although authorities said some elderly passengers would finally be allowed to disembark on Friday.

More than 1,300 people have died from the disease in China, WHO figures show.

But only three deaths have been reported outside China — one in the Philippines, one in Hong Kong, and the latest, an 80-year-old woman, in Japan.

In Vietnam, official media reported a village of 10,000 north-west of the capital, Hanoi, was put in lockdown due to a cluster of cases there.

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