Beijing/Tokyo, 13 February 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Japan announced its first death from the new coronavirus on Thursday, marking the third fatality outside of mainland China since the epidemic erupted.
A Japanese woman in her 80s is the country’s first confirmed fatality, the health ministry said.
The ministry only found out that she had been infected with the coronavirus after her death, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.
The resident of Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo had been hospitalized since February 1, Kato said. He believed the woman was infected in Japan as she did not have a recent overseas travel history.
The woman is only the third death from the virus outside of mainland China, where 1,367 have died, most of them in central Hubei province. One person has died in Hong Kong and one the Philippines.
The leadership in Beijing replaced the party chief of Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, as public pressure mounted amid a surge in new cases reported on Thursday.
Jiang Chaoliang, the party chief of Hubei province, no longer holds functions in the provincial party committee, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Jiang is the highest-ranking official to have been apparently punished over the local government’s handling of the outbreak.
He will be replaced by Ying Yong, the former mayor of Shanghai and a protege of President Xi Jinping.
Beijing also announced the ousting of Ma Guoqiang, the party secretary of the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak started in December.
The announcements came days after China fired two officials in charge of Hubei’s health commission.
Public criticism over the ruling Communist Party’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has risen over the past weeks, culminating with an outpouring of grief last Friday over the death of a Wuhan doctor who had sounded an early alarm about the virus and had been reprimanded by authorities.
Hubei province reported 14,840 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, an almost ten-fold increase over the previous day, as health authorities said they changed diagnostic criteria.
Of the 254 deaths that occurred in mainland China over 24 hours, 242 were in Hubei – more than double the number from a day earlier, according to the Health Commission of Hubei Province.
The new figures marked a dramatic jump in the number of new virus cases and casualties in the province.
National authorities on Thursday reported a total of 59,804 confirmed cases and 1,367 deaths across the country since the outbreak started.
The Hubei health commission said it had changed the diagnostic criteria used to confirm cases following new national guidelines.
The commission didn’t provide further details about the new diagnostic criteria. However, doctors had called previously for diagnoses based on symptoms such as fever and cough, as test kits for the coronavirus were in short supply and not always accurate.
Meanwhile there were developments on Thursday in the cases of the cruise ships quarantined or blocked from port due to fears over the virus.
Holland America Line’s Westerdam docked in Cambodia after being turned away by several other Asian countries and spending days in limbo.
Passengers will not be allowed to disembark until they are first checked by medical professionals, a government spokesman in the coastal province of Preah Sihanouk.
The ship departed from Hong Kong and Taiwan in early February and is currently carrying 2,257 people, the cruise line said. Governments in both places have reported coronavirus infections.
In Japan, 44 more people on the cruise ship Diamond Princess off Yokohama were confirmed infected with the virus. Japan‘s cases now total 251, including 218 on the ship and one quarantine officer assigned to the ship.
The health ministry said it will allow elderly passengers and those with chronic illnesses to disembark earlier than scheduled if they test negative for the coronavirus.
Of the 2,666 passengers on the ship, there are 226 passengers aged 80 and over, according to broadcaster NHK.
Elsewhere, the German cruise ship Aidavita was refused permission to dock at the Ha Long port in northern Vietnam.
A spokesman for the cruise operator AIDA Cruises told dpa no reason had been given for the refusal. The ship has some 1,100 passengers.
About two dozen countries have confirmed cases of the virus.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Health announced eight new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total number of those infected to 58 in the city-state. This was the biggest increase in infections in a day for Singapore so far.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned that the outbreak could lead to medicine shortages in Europe, since many of the chemicals used in pharmaceutical products are produced in China, where areas of the country have been put under lockdown and some industries have come to a standstill.
“Quite a few of the active ingredients for pharmaceuticals here in Europe come from China in particular, incidentally also from Hubei province,” Spahn says ahead of a meeting in Brussels with his EU counterparts to discuss the outbreak.
At their meeting EU health ministers stressed the need for coordinated action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and tackle a potential surge in the epidemic in Europe.