The Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in deaths and thousands more infections using a broader definition on Thursday, while Japan became the third place outside mainland China to suffer a fatality.
The epidemic has given China’s ruling Communist Party one of its sternest tests in years, constrained the world’s second largest economy and triggered a purge of provincial bureaucrats.
With China’s streets, restaurants and flower markets bare, a miserable Valentine’s Day was expected on Friday.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death – a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo – adding to two previous fatalities in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Japan is one of the worst affected of more than two dozen other countries and territories that have seen hundreds of infections from the flu-like virus.
The Japanese woman fell ill in January but only later showed symptoms of pneumonia and was hospitalised, with coronavirus confirmed after her death and the contagion route under investigation, the health minister.
In central China’s Hubei province, officials said 242 people died on Wednesday, the biggest daily rise since the flu-like virus emerged in the provincial capital Wuhan in December.
Total deaths in China are 1,367.
The rise, following a forecast earlier this week by China’s senior medical adviser that the epidemic may end there by April, halted a global stocks rally.
But it appeared in large part to be due to methodology.
Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing identification of viruses.