BEIJING: Mainland China reported on Thursday the lowest number of confirmed cases of a new coronavirus since late January, partly due to a change in diagnostic criteria for patients in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak. China had 394 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said, sharply down from 1,749 cases a day earlier and the lowest since Jan. 23.
That brings the total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 74,576.
Previously, suspected cases in the central province of Hubei that showed signs of pneumonia in chest X-rays but did not test positive for genetic traces of the coronavirus were counted as confirmed cases.
Two elderly coronavirus patients from a quarantined cruise ship off Japan have died, media reports said on Thursday, citing a government source.
A man and a woman in their 80s who had been infected have died, public broadcaster NHK and other media said.
No immediate confirmation was available from the health ministry. They would be the first fatal cases among more than 600 confirmed on the ship.
Two Russian nationals aboard the quarantined cruise ship have been diagnosed with coronavirus, Russia’s embassy in Japan said on Thursday.
The two Russians will be taken to hospital soon, the embassy said in a post on social media. That brings the number of Russians who have contracted the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise liner to three.
Meanwhile, Egyptair said in a statement on Thursday that it will resume some flights to and from China starting next week.
The national airline suspended all flights to China in early February over the coronavirus outbreak.
“Egyptair has decided to resume a flight weekly every Thursday,” the statement said.
On Wednesday, China’s health authority removed that category of clinically diagnosed cases from its criteria for confirmed cases.
Chest X-rays were previously used in Hubei to help accelerate the process of diagnosis. The health authority said on Wednesday that nucleic acid tests to identify the presence of the virus were preferred.
Hubei, which accounts for most of the infections, saw a sharp drop in confirmed cases on Wednesday, after the change in diagnostic criteria led to the subtraction of some previously confirmed cases from the tally.
Hubei had 349 new confirmed cases reported on Wednesday, down from 1,693 on Tuesday and the lowest since Jan. 25.
Excluding Hubei, the number of new confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 45, down from 56 a day earlier and falling for the 16th consecutive day.
Provinces, regions and municipalities that reported zero confirmed cases on Wednesday included Liaoning, Fujian, Shanxi, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guizhou, Ningxi, Inner Mongolia and Qinghai.
The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China has reached 2,118 as of the end of Wednesday, up by 114 from the previous day.
Hubei reported 108 new deaths on Wednesday, 88 of them in the locked-down provincial capital of Wuhan.
A total of 1,585 people in Wuhan have now died from the virus, accounting for almost 75 percent of all mainland fatalities.