Just as the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases appeared to be leveling off in China, new diagnostic standards implemented in the province of Hubei means that yesterday’s figure of over 15,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24 hour period was almost nine times higher than the 1,638 cases reported the day before.
Whereas Chinese patients used to wait several days for the results of laboratory tests until being confirmed as carriers of the virus, as of yesterday authorities in the region now conduct a much faster assessment on the basis of symptoms and a CT lung scan.
The change comes after a social media campaign by a Wuhan doctor who pointed out the reliability and speed of the lung scans in detecting the virus.
This brings the worldwide total of confirmed cases to over 60,000, with the death toll exceeding 1,300 people.
The dean of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Wang Chen told state media that the changed standards in testing were “extremely necessary” because the laboratory tests had not always been accurate.
“Many patients who appeared to be [infected with COVID-19] based on their epidemiological history, contact history and clinical symptoms were not able to test positive on the nucleic acid test, and were listed as ‘suspected cases,’” he said.
Many sick people, among them suspected carriers, also reported being turned away from Wuhan hospitals because of overcrowding or test results not having returned, leaving an increased risk of contagion among the public.
The prospect of forced isolation also means some likely carriers are trying to evade the door-to-door inspections of health officials.
Whilst the rate of confirmations had been slowing, Chinese officials will now have to contend with a virus that shows no sign of containment, and continues to cause significant social and economic upheaval in the country.
The new reporting standards however have only been mandated in Hubei, not the rest of China, leading many to fear the problem could be even bigger than yesterday’s figures suggest.
The coronavirus itself is proving highly contagious, more so than SARS and MERS, spreading easily from one carrier to dozens of others, with scientists still trying to track the many ways in which it appears to travel.