Coronavirus: Rate of new cases and deaths surge under new diagnosis method

Within hours of the new figures being revealed, China had removed several senior officials from office.

Hubei authorities have been criticized fiercely for not having responded to the deadly virus in the early stage of the outbreak, which, as of Thursday, had killed 1,368 people and infected more than 50,000 in China.

Thursday's changes follow the sacking of two top health officials in Hubei on Tuesday, the Communist Party secretary and director of the province's health commission.

In a Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday in Beijing, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, demanded resolute efforts to "win the peoples war" against the epidemic, according to the state-owned Xinhua News Agency.

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said it is "way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end" of the crisis in China.

Hubei also reported 244 new deaths after earlier reporting 242.

"The stabilization in cases in the last number of days is very reassuring and it is to a great extent the result of the huge public health operation in China", he said.

While the vast majority of infections and deaths have been in China, particularly the Hubei province, relatively small numbers of infections and a few deaths have been documented in over two dozen other countries. Japan has the second-highest number of cases due to a quarantined cruise ship docked in Yokohama.

Also on Thursday, Australia announced that the ban on travellers from China would extend for at least a week beyond Saturday's planned deadline.

A decision to extend the ban further will be taken week-to-week, he said.

"Many patients who appeared to be [infected with COVID-19] based on their epidemiological history, contact history and clinical symptoms were not able to test positive on the nucleic acid test, and were listed as 'suspected cases, '" he said.

The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia.

"The relationship between the new coronavirus and the death of the woman is still unclear", Katsunobu Kato said at a late-night briefing.