China says new coronavirus cases drop, starts posting asymptomatic tally too

Mainland China reported a decrease in new infections in a global coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday and has started to publish the daily progress of symptom-free cases, although the latter may complicate the picture of disease trends.

Almost all 36 of Tuesday’s new cases involved overseas arrivals, the National Health Commission said, up from 48 a day earlier, bringing the number of infections to 81,554.

But this figure excludes 130 new people with the highly contagious disease who have no symptoms, according to statistics from the health authority.

Some other countries include cases that test positive for the virus but have no symptoms in the count of confirmed cases, as advised by the World Health Organization.

China must “build a solid line of defense against the risks of an epidemic abroad” and leave no escape, President Xi Jinping said in comments published on Wednesday.

In remarks during a visit to eastern Zhejiang Province, Xi also called for better management of symptomless cases.

Chinese social media users have expressed concern that symptomless carriers are unknowingly spreading the virus, especially as authorities ease travel restrictions for hot spots in the epidemic, now that infections have spread decreases.

Last week, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said at a conference in Geneva that symptomatic patients are the main drivers of transmission in the majority of cases, while most of those classified as asymptomatic patients developed symptoms a few days after diagnosis.

But China has now decided to devote more screening to asymptomatic people and people in contact with them.

On Tuesday, 1,367 asymptomatic cases were under observation, against 1,541 the day before, said the National Health Commission.

Seven deaths from the virus were reported Tuesday, against one the day before. All but one were in central Hubei province, where the epidemic started late last year.

Only one new local infection was reported on Tuesday in the southern province of Guangdong.

Although the count of imported cases, at 806, represents only a small fraction of the total number of cases, authorities fearful of a second wave of infection have banned the entry of most foreigners and ordered more stringent checks on citizens returning from abroad.