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On Sunday, February 16, the Chinese government announced that the number of new coronavirus cases had dropped for the third straight day. The total number of cases on the Chinese mainland is now approximately 68,500 according to China’s National Health Commission.
Still, over the past 24 hours, over 2,000 new cases were reported. While this number represents a reduction from the previous several days, the number of new cases highlights the ongoing threat of the virus.
In China, some 60 million people remain quarantined, meaning they are unable to leave their city. People arriving in Beijing from outside the city were told to impose a 14-day “self quarantine” or risk punishment. This means all those arriving in Beijing are supposed to stay inside their place of residence or submit to official monitoring for a full two weeks, the longest known incubation period for the virus, to ensure they don’t spread it to others unknowingly.
Anyone found breaking these rules “will be held accountable under the law,” reported the state-backed Beijing Daily newspaper.
New way to tally the infected
Earlier this week, China implemented a new way to start counting the total number of virus cases.
Instead of just tallying the number of confirmed cases in hospitals, China has started including the number of “clinically diagnosed patients.” In practice, this means anyone seen showing symptoms of the virus but who had been unable to get a test to have it confirmed or who may have falsely tested negative.
On Thursday, this new method caused international confusion as the the number of cases seemed to skyrocket overnight.
“Our forecast was 1,500 new cases, and I opened my computer and it’s 15,000 new cases. I think my hair stood up on my head," said David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.
Once the dust settled, though, Fisman was relieved that China is widening its net in the fight against the virus. “[When] the case definitions change, that’s a good public health practice [because] they don’t want to miss cases," he added.
Skepticism with China’s management
The World Health Organization (WHO) has largely stood by China and its response to the outbreak, even as reports have come out that the government mishandled the outbreak early on.
Others are skeptical that China should be trusted to provide the full picture of the problem. The While House earlier this week said they “don’t have high confidence” that China is reporting the virus accurately.
Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, echoed this sentiment, saying, “I don’t trust the reporting in China, and I also believe that the China numbers reflect the most severe cases, so we’re getting a skewed view of the case fatality rate and how severe this is.”