Virus death toll soars as China changes counting methods

People wearing protective suits walk from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with around 3,600 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new coronavirus.

People wearing protective suits walk from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with around 3,600 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new coronavirus.

AFP/Charly Triballeau

BEIJING - China's official death toll from the new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern the epidemic is far worse than being reported.

As the figures soared in China, a troubling new front opened abroad as neighbouring Vietnam placed 10,000 people under quarantine after six COVID-19 cases were discovered in a cluster of villages -- the first such lockdown overseas.

Under criticism at home over the handling of the crisis, China's Communist Party sacked two top-ranking officials in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

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The developments came hours after President Xi Jinping claimed "positive results" from efforts to contain an epidemic that has now officially killed 1,367 people and infected nearly 60,000.

But the World Health Organization warned it was too soon to declare victory.

"I think it's way too early to try to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic right now," said Michael Ryan, head of the WHO's health emergencies programme.

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In Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where tens of millions of people are trapped as part of an unprecedented quarantine effort, 242 new deaths were reported on Thursday.

Outside Hubei, there were 12 more deaths but the number of new cases fell for a ninth day in a row, with 312 extra patients.

Health officials said they looked into past suspected cases and revised their diagnoses, suggesting older cases were also included in Thursday's numbers.

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China had been praised by the WHO for its transparent handling of the outbreak, in contrast to the way it concealed the extent of the deadly SARS virus epidemic in 2002-2003.

But it has faced continued scepticism among the global public, with fears that there may be similarities to the way it dealt with SARS.

Authorities in Hubei have been accused of concealing the gravity of the outbreak.

Criticism intensified after the death of a doctor who had tried to raise the alarm about the outbreak in December, but was silenced by authorities.

Source
AFP

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