BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday in a global coronavirus pandemic, and started to publish the daily change in cases that are free of symptoms, although the latter could complicate the picture of trends in the disease.
Almost all of Tuesday’s 36 new cases involved arrivals from overseas, the National Health Commission said, down from 48 a day earlier, and taking the tally of infections to 81,554.
But that figure excludes 130 new sufferers of the highly contagious disease who do not show symptoms, statistics from the health authority showed.
Some other countries include cases that test positive for the virus but display no symptoms in the tally of confirmed cases, in line with advice from the World Health Organization.
China must “build a solid line of defence against the risks of overseas epidemic”, and allow no loopholes, President Xi Jinping said in comments published on Wednesday.
In his remarks during a visit to the eastern province of Zhejiang, Xi also urged better management of symptom-free cases.
Users of Chinese social media have expressed fear that carriers with no symptoms could be spreading the virus unknowingly, especially as authorities ease curbs on travel for hotspots in the epidemic, now that infections have subsided.
Last week, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a conference in Geneva that symptomatic patients were the main drivers of transmission in the majority of cases, while most of those classified as asymptomatic developed symptoms a few days after diagnosis.
But China has now decided to devote greater screening to asymptomatic sufferers and those in contact with them.
By Tuesday, 1,367 asymptomatic cases were under observation, down from 1,541 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
Seven deaths from the virus were reported on Tuesday, up from just one the day before. All but one were in the central province of Hubei, where the outbreak began late last year.
A single new local infection was reported on Tuesday in the southern province of Guangdong.
Although the tally of imported cases, at 806, is just a small fraction of overall cases, authorities fearing a second wave of infection have barred entry to most foreigners and ordered tougher checks on citizens returning from abroad.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Kim Coghill and Simon Cameron-Moore)