In a formidable campaign across China to discipline officials who have mishandled the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has removed and replaced two top party heads in Central China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the crisis, according to state media reports on Thursday.
The province also broadened its definition of COVID-19 cases to include "clinically diagnosed" patients, which results in a steep rise of 14,840 new cases. Local officials' concealment of the outbreak's severity and silencing of those who spoke up about it, including a doctor who later died from COVID-19, has sparked fury and demand for accountability across China.
The Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) and the WHO, a United Nations agency, held a meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday for over 300 of the world's leading public health experts to set priorities and fund research aimed at containing this outbreak and preventing others.
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said it is "way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end" of the crisis in China.
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.
The shakeup followed a huge surge of confirmed infections in China on Wednesday, with most of the cases in Hubei. China has now reported 1,368 deaths from the viral disease and close to 60,000 infections. Japan has the second-highest number of cases due to a quarantined cruise ship docked in Yokohama.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would maintain "entry restriction on foreign nationals who have recently been in mainland China" for at least another week "to protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus".
"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.
"The relationship between the new coronavirus and the death of the woman is still unclear", Katsunobu Kato said at a late-night briefing.