China's National Health Commission said Saturday that 143 more people had died from the new coronavirus, bringing the death toll to more than 1,500.

The commission also confirmed another 2,641 new virus cases, but that represented a drop from higher numbers in recent days. The previous day, China reported 5,090 new infections.

China's government recently changed its methodology for diagnosing and counting new cases, causing a spike in the number of reported cases. Under the new method, doctors can use lung imaging and other analysis to diagnose a patient instead of relying on laboratory testing.

China's health commission said Saturday that most of the new deaths were in Hubei's provincial capital of Wuhan, which is where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have begun.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country stood at 66,492 as of Friday night, with the death toll at 1,523, according the commission.

On Friday, the commission's vice minister, Zeng Yixin, said 1,716 health workers had also been infected by the coronavirus and six had died.

Probe set

A joint mission with China led by the World Health Organization will launch an investigation this weekend into the coronavirus. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Friday in Geneva that he expected a team to arrive in China this weekend and that "particular attention will be paid to understanding transmission of the virus, the severity of the disease and the impact of ongoing measures."

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for stronger public health legislation Friday as the country grapples with the outbreak. Xi "stressed the need to strengthen areas of weakness and close loopholes exposed by the current epidemic," according to China Global Television Network.

In Beijing, city officials were requiring all people returning to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days. The state-run Beijing Daily newspaper reported Friday that those who refused to seclude themselves or who violated other containment rules "will be held accountable under the law."

Hundreds of passengers aboard the cruise ship Westerdam who were turned away by several Asian countries finally disembarked in Cambodia on Friday after Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed them. The authoritarian leader, a staunch ally of China's Xi, handed flowers to them as they cheered and walked to buses while waving to other passengers who remained aboard the ship.

Hun Sen said all the nearly 1,500 passengers would be allowed to disembark after no cases were found aboard.

The outbreak has led to the firing of Jiang Chaoliang as the ruling Communist Party chief in Hubei, days after the province's top two health officials were removed from their posts. The official Xinhua news agency said former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong would replace Jiang, who had been criticized by the public for his handling of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

The virus is believed to have emerged late last year at a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei.

Lockdown in Vietnam

The Vietnamese government ordered the lockdown of a village of 10,000 people Thursday, official media reported, making it the first country other than China to impose a mass quarantine. Checkpoints were established in Son Loi, northwest of the capital, Hanoi. An increase in cases has been reported in Son Loi.

In Japan, officials said an 80-year-old woman who died in a hospital on the outskirts of Tokyo was the nation's first coronavirus fatality. She was the third person to die of the virus outside China, with the other fatalities occurring in the Philippines and Hong Kong.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that a 15th case of the coronavirus had been confirmed in the United States. The person, along with other evacuated U.S. citizens, arrived at an Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, February 7 aboard a State Department-chartered flight from China. The person was being treated at an area hospital.

"There will likely be additional cases in the coming days and weeks, including among other people recently returned from Wuhan," the CDC said in a statement.

The death toll from the coronavirus is more than twice that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened nearly 8,100 in China and Hong Kong.

Continue Reading

on VOA Voice of America

Featured