China officials fired as coronovirus deaths surge past 1,300

Health officials in China‘s hard-hit central province of Hubei reported on Thursday that 242 more people died from the coronavirus COVID-19 as of Wednesday – the highest in a single day and more than twice the previous record high – pushing the death toll across the country to 1,355.

The province’s health commission also reported a huge jump in new cases, saying a further 14,840 people had been confirmed with the infection over the 24-hour period to midnight on Wednesday (16:00 GMT).

As this developed, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday that the head of the Communist party in the province of Hubei has been relieved of his post – the latest in a line of local officials fired.

Hubei is at the centre of the outbreak, which is thought to have originated in a now-closed seafood market in the capital of Wuhan late last year.

Former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong has been appointed as the new secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, replacing Jiang Chaoliang, the report said, citing the party’s central committee.

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said “it was expected that somebody’s head was on the chopping block”.

“There’s been a lot of criticism about the information not being so forthcoming” from Hubei officials, she added.

Earlier, the Communist party chief of the health commission of Hubei, Zhang Jin, and its director, Liu Yingzi, were also replaced.

During the SARS outbreak in China in 2003, the government also fired Zhang Wenkang as health minister and Meng Xuenong as mayor of Beijing. Zhang was replaced by Wu Yi, while Meng was replaced by his brother-in-law, Wang Qishan, who is now the vice president of China.

Meanwhile, Hubei’s health commission said in a statement that it had begun including infections diagnosed through new clinical methods and had revised its old data and suspected cases. The latest death toll included more than 100 clinically diagnosed cases.

“Before this, doctors had to use one particular type of testing kit and there have been doubts about the kit,” Al Jazeera’s Yu explained.

“Now the government has given doctors more discretion on how they can diagnose cases and that’s why there has been this huge jump.”

Previously, doctors have to test patients, with “false negative” results, four or five times, before getting the results, Yu added.

State media said last week that Hubei would start recognising computerised tomography (CT) scan results as confirmation of infections, allowing hospitals to isolate patients more quickly

Total cases in the province have now reached 48,206, the commission data showed, pushing the total number nationwide to nearly 60,000.

China’s national health commission is expected to provide an update on countrywide infections later on Thursday.

At least 25 countries have confirmed cases of the virus and several nations have evacuated their citizens from Hubei. Two deaths have been recorded outside mainland China – one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.