China on Thursday reported 254 fatalities from the coronavirus outbreak - the highest in a single day and double than the previous record high - taking the death toll to 1,367, as authorities adopted a new diagnosis method amid concerns that the crisis is nowhere near slowing down contrary to official projections.
China's central Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, reported 242 deaths and nearly 15,000 fresh cases on Wednesday, said Mi Feng, a spokesperson with the National Health Commission.
Twelve fatalities came from other provinces including two in Henan, and one in Tianjin, Hebei, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps respectively.
The total deaths from the more than two-month-old virus outbreak as reported on Thursday stood at 1,367, with the total number of confirmed cases mounting to 59,804, health officials were quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The Philippines reported the first death outside China from the virus. So far 445 cases have been reported from about 26 countries including three from India.
Amid growing public anger over the handling of the crisis, the ruling Communist Party of China replaced two high-ranking officials in Hubei province, where coronavirus first emerged in late December in provincial capital Wuhan.
Xinhua reported that former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, 61, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, has been appointed as the new Hubei party secretary, replacing Jiang Chaoliang.
The leader of Wuhan city, Ma Guoqiang, 56, has been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, 57, the party secretary of Shandong's provincial capital Jinan.
Jiang, 61, is the highest-ranking political casualty so far in the virus outbreak.
Today's purge of the officials followed dismissal of the two top health officials in Hubei province earlier this week.
The Hubei Provincial Health Commission said Wuhan has reported 14,840 new cases on Wednesday, including 13,332 "clinically diagnosed cases", which are being treated as confirmed cases from Thursday onwards as a new method of calculation.
The commission said the adjustment in the calculation has been made to give those who have been clinically diagnosed with the timely standard treatment of confirmed cases.
With this, the total confirmed cases in Hubei province rose to 48,206, it said.
While China attributed the big increase in the numbers to the change in the new methodology of calculation, significantly the rise coincides with the visit of a 15-member team of the specialists of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is currently visiting China.
It is not yet clear whether WHO team is also scrutinising the numbers relating to the virus.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to confirm whether the method of calculation of the cases is approved by the WHO team.
But at the same time, he told a media briefing online that "the advance team is here to discuss specific arrangements for the China-WHO joint mission with the Chinese side".
"The purpose of the joint mission is that experts of both sides can have in-depth communication on the situation and efforts of prevention and control, and come up with advice for China and other affected countries. I'll leave the specifics to the competent authorities, he said.
The big hike in cases comes amid the official accounts that the cases of the coronavirus are coming down and gradually normalcy is being restored.
Under pressure to accommodate growing number of cases, Wuhan health officials started converting dormitories, gyms of universities in the city into hospitals which raised concerns among foreign students who are stuck in the city.
In the wake of development, foreign students including that of India and Pakistan have started making desperate pleas to their governments to immediately evacuate them.
Three Indian students studying in Hubei University of Chinese Medicine have sought urgent help from the Indian government to evacuate them from there.
India has already evacuated 647 Indian nationals mostly students from Wuhan and Hubei. Ten Indians could not board the two special flights due to fever. Indian officials say around 80 to 100 Indians are still in the region.
About 1,000 Pakistani students are currently in Hubei. A number of Pakistani students have complained that the dormitories of their universities are being converted into hospitals with virus patients.
One such notice posted by the Hubei University of Chinese Medicine, where three Indian students were held up, said "our university is going to use the gymnasium as the shelter to receive the confirmed cases".
The university was earlier not in the list but now an official notification has been issued to include it, the notice said.
"Now we need to cooperate as requires. Our whole Wuhan, it's a 'War' period. Hope everyone can understand. And, knows the serious situation. We will try best to ensure your basic needs. Special Period, special way. DO NOT GO OUT! Do take precautions! Anything or questions, plz let us know," it said.
China has already built two makeshift hospitals with 2,300 beds, converted auditorium and stadiums into hospitals.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people backed by prominent academicians are circulating a rare public petition calling for freedom of speech following the death of Dr Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded by police for alerting about the virus over the social media in December last.
(Story by KJM Varma)