The calming words from the World Health Organization after Chinese health officials added 13,3000 cases to the total in Hubei province is that this is just a change in how cases are reported and NOT an indication that the epidemic, which has looked to be slowing over the last few days, has become more infectious or more deadly. The change also adds 254 people to the death tolls. All but two of the 1370 deaths reported so far have occurred in China.
Previously Chinese officials were only reporting a case of coronavirus after it had been confirmed by a lab test result. Now doctors are classifying cases after they have seen a chest infection on a CT scan.
The true scale of the epidemic caused by the new coronavirus in Hubei province has been thrown into doubt after the Chinese authorities reported more than 13,300 extra cases going back over an unknown number of days or weeks. It’s likely that most of the 13,300 “new” cases actually go back days or even weeks.
The problem with the change in methodology is the it makes it hard to say what the trajectory of the disease is. “The issue remains how are we going to be able to say what is happening with the trajectory of the outbreak when the cases definitions change midway through the epidemic?” Paul Hunter, a coronavirus expert from the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian “Will the figures be backdated? Also, what about cases that have a clinical diagnosis but negative lab tests, are they included in the confirmed cases or not?
Whatever the true course of the virus, the politics of the epidemic took a decisive turn today. President Xi Jinping looked to be exercising more control over the outbreak with the firing of Hubei’s party chief, the party chief of Wuhan, and the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs office. The new party chief in Hubei, Ying Yong, came up through the ranks in Zhejiang–where Xi previously served as party secretary and has been part of Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaigns.