China's Hubei province, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, reported a stark rise in the number of new cases Thursday, dashing hopes that the epidemic may have been slowing down.
Health officials in Hubei reported 14,840 new cases, most of them in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province where the virus is believed to have originated.
The province also said another 242 people had died from the coronavirus Wednesday, taking the total number of deaths in mainland China to 1,367. It stood at 1,113 on Wednesday.
Across mainland China, there were 15,152 new confirmed infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 59,805, a significant jump that's sure to raise concerns about the true scale of the epidemic in China.
The total number as of Wednesday was 44,653.
The spike came after officials in Hubei province, hardest hit by the outbreak, started using new technology to diagnose coronavirus cases.
Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days to process. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for the identification of organisms like viruses.
But it has now begun counting cases that have been clinically diagnosed.
While the Hubei health commission didn't spell out the new diagnosis method used, Reuters reported, citing the country's National Health Commission, that computerized tomography (CT) scans, which can reveal lung infections, are being used to confirm infection.
As a result, another new 14,840 cases were reported in Hubei on Thursday, up from 2,015 new cases reported across mainland China a day earlier.
The new diagnosis method will help patients get treatment as early as possible and improve the success rate of their treatment, the Hubei health commission said.
However, the new testing methodology is only being used in Hubei province, Chinese officials said.
Ahead of the newly reported rise in cases in Hubei, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday the number of cases of infection in China had stabilized, but it was too early to say the epidemic was slowing.
"This outbreak could still go in any direction," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva Wednesday.
Meanwhile, “war-time control measures” were announced Wednesday in the Zhangwan District in the city of Shiyan in Hubei province, northwest of Wuhan, where the epidemic is believed to have originated.
The measures, which include the closure of all buildings, took effect Thursday and will last for at least 14 days.
It’s the first time Chinese authorities have announced such drastic measures since the outbreak began. Those who defy the measures will be detained, local authorities said.
As China struggles to get the outbreak under control, top officials in the center of the epidemic are paying the price.
The country’s Xinhua news agency reported Thursday the secretary of the provincial party committee of Hubei province Jiang Chaolian has been removed and will be replaced by Ying Yong, the current mayor of Shanghai.
Jiang's departure follows the firing of two other senior officials in Hubei.