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China alters coronavirus diagnosis definition again; new cases drop, 2,122 dead

China has for the second time in week changed the criteria to diagnose confirmed coronavirus (covid-19) cases, resulting in a drop in numbers from the worst-hit Hubei province but a spike in suspicion on the reliability of official data.

The change in criteria was announced as the death toll as of early Thursday stood at 2122 on the mainland.

Under the new criteria, there were 394 cases nationwide on Wednesday down from 1749 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 74,576, the national health commission (NHC) announced.

Hubei, the epicenter province of the outbreak, reported 349 new cases on Wednesday, down from 1,693 a day earlier.

The revised guidelines for the first time raised the possibility of covid-19 transmission through aerosol in closed environments for extended periods of time.

It added: “…the possibility of aerosol transmission in prolonged exposure to high concentrations of aerosol in a relatively closed environment”.

The number of new covid-19 cases dropped because the health officials have decided to apply stricter and universal criteria nationwide rather than a different, broader standard only for Hubei province as in the previous version.

Under the earlier plan, cases in the epidemic’s epicentre Hubei could be diagnosed clinically, such as with chest X-rays – it resulted in 15000 new cases being reported on February 13.

From now, all confirmed cases will be determined using lab tests known as nucleic acid tests (NATs) – like it was being done before the first change in diagnostic criteria was made specifically for Hubei.

The way cases are diagnosed and confirmed decides the official covid-19 tallies from across China, and changes – two in quick succession — in the diagnosis method have raised questions about the accuracy of numbers – worse, it barely suppresses the suspicion that the government could be hiding the extent of the outbreak.

The NHC officials said China’s daily number of new infections outside Hubei recorded a drop for 16 consecutive days.

Meanwhile, state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi has said China

efforts to control the outbreak “are working”, adding that the easing in new cases to his country’s “forceful action” against the illness.

Speaking in Laos after talks with counterparts from the 10 Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries, Wang Yi said the outbreak was “controllable and curable” despite the global panic it has seeded.

“China is not only protecting its own people but also the rest of the world,” he told the summit in Vientiane, referring to the drop in new cases.

In Hubei, and its capital, Wuhan, the fight against the outbreak continues as authorities scramble to arrange for more beds and deploy medics.

“China has gone all out to treat covid-19 patients both with mild symptoms and in severe conditions alike in the epicentre city of Wuhan as the number of hospital beds reserved for covid-19 patients has risen to about 40,000 and the supporting medical personnel over 30,000,” official news agency, Xinhua said in a report early Thursday.

“Currently, more than 30,000 medical personnel, including military medics, have been sent to Wuhan from across the country with specialties in a number of disciplines, including respiratory infections, heart and kidneys. Wuhan now has 11,000 intensive care medical staff, accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s total,” the report added.

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