The number of new confirmed Covid-19 infections in China dropped significantly on Thursday as health authorities reverted a decision to count clinically diagnosed patients as confirmed cases.
Only 394 new coronavirus infections were counted across China over the past 24-hour period, compared to 1,749 new cases added on Wednesday.
The National Health Commission reported a total of 74,576 infections across mainland China and 2,118 deaths including 114 casualties over the past 24 hours.
The commission on Wednesday reversed a change in the diagnostic guidelines for coronavirus patients that allowed cases in Hubei province – the epicentre of the outbreak – to be diagnosed clinically, such as via chest X-rays.
Going forward, infections will again be confirmed based solely on traditional nucleic acid tests, the commission said.
To address concerns about false negatives, the new guidelines emphasise the need for sound sampling procedures and the use of multiple tests alongside new rapid antibody screening tests that are being developed by Guangzhou Medical University.
The commission last week had changed the guidelines to allow Hubei province to label as confirmed cases diagnoses based on X-rays and symptoms such as fever and cough because nucleic acid test kits were in short supply and not always accurate.
The change had led to a spike in the number of confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, other countries have been organising evacuations for their nationals from a quarantined cruise ship off the coast of Japan near Tokyo.
Some 170 Australian passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship arrived on Thursday on a special flight to the northern Australian city of Darwin, Qantas confirmed.
The evacuees will spend a further 14 days in quarantine in a disused workers’ camp some 30 kilometres from the city, where more than 260 Australians are already being kept after being evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the crisis in central China.
The cruise ship evacuees, who, according to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, were 170, will be kept separate from the Wuhan evacuees.
Some 180 people had signed up to take the government-organised flight, but 10 people were told at the last minute they could not leave because they had tested positive to the coronavirus.
The number of confirmed infections among the 3,700 passengers on the ship stood at 621, including 36 Australians.
The vessel is moored in the port of Yokohama near Tokyo.
The first group of passengers from the Diamond Princess also touched down in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Of the 350 people from Hong Kong on board the ship who were waiting to be repatriated, 106 arrived and will face two weeks of quarantine in a newly built public housing estate.
More than 50 of the 350 Hong Kong passengers tested positive for the virus and will stay on in Japan to receive treatment.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain has also organised an evacuation flight for its nationals on board the Diamond Princess to depart Tokyo on Friday.
Meanwhile in Seoul, some 800 workers at a South Korean chip-making company were ordered to self-quarantine after a new recruit at the company was found to have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, Yonhap reported Thursday.
The company SK hynix, which makes memory chips, discovered a new employee had been in close contact with a coronavirus patient in the city of Daegu, where South Korea’s health authorities reported more than 10 infections the previous day.
The move is not affecting factory operations, the company said.
Some 15,000 workers are employed at the Icheon headquarters, about 70 kilometres south of Seoul.