China virus death toll nears 1,400, U.S. bemoans 'lack of transparency'

The hard-hit Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, has reported 116 new fatalities and reported 4,823 new confirmed cases on Thursday, the provincial health commission said on Friday.

Health officials in Hubei said they started to count clinically diagnosed cases to ensure that patients get treated as early as possible instead of having to wait for laboratory tests to confirm they have the COVID-19 disease.

The health authority said an accumulated total of 63,851 people have been infected by the coronavirus.

On Thursday, following the release of the new figures, Chinese state media announced that the party secretary of Hubei province, Jiang Chaoliang, was sacked and would be replaced by the mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong.

The WHO said the numbers included cases going back weeks.

"We're not dealing, from what we understand, with a spike of 14,000 on one day", Dr. Ryan said.

The death toll from the coronavirus is higher than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened almost 8,100 in China and Hong Kong. There are now several hundred coronavirus cases in 27 countries outside of China.

Only two patients have died from the infection outside of China, according to WHO.

Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday - a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo. Hong Kong and the Philippines have each reported one.

"Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself", Dr Ryan told a news conference at World Health Organization headquarters.

A CCTV reporter stands near the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, February 13, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The ship has been linked to 218 cases, making it the largest cluster outside of China.

The sharp one-day increase "does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak", said Michael Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies programme.

Officials said the epidemic is still intensely centered in China.

Two of Hubei's senior health officials were also removed Monday.

Some 80,000 medical workers were involved in combating the epidemic in Wuhan, the city government said earlier this month.

Australian health officials tested a passenger onboard another cruise ship that docked in Sydney harbour for a "respiratory illness" on Friday, causing passengers to fret about the potential of another shipboard outbreak of the coronavirus.