The number of people killed by the coronavirus has jumped by record numbers, as global health experts warn the epidemic could get far worse before it is brought under control.
Health officials in the central Chinese Hubei province said 242 people had died from the flu-like virus on Thursday, the fastest rise in the daily count since the pathogen, now called COVID-19, was identified in December.
The surge brings the total number of deaths in the province to 1,310. The previous record rise in the toll was 103 on the 10 February.
The grim new tally came a day after China had reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by Beijing’s senior medical adviser for the outbreak to end by April.
But the 2,015 new confirmed cases reported in mainland China on Wednesday was dwarfed by the 14,840 new cases reported in Hubei alone on Thursday when provincial officials said they had adopted a new methodology for counting infections.
It was not immediately clear how the new methodology affected the results, nor why the death toll rose so sharply.
Results from Chinese trials testing a combination of antiviral drugs used to treat HIV against the new coronavirus are due in weeks, but experts say a vaccine could still be months away.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned any apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with “extreme caution”.
“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he told reporters.