China reports 1,541 asymptomatic COVID-19 cases amid fears of fresh outbreak
Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that by the end of February, more than 43,000 people in mainland China had tested positive for the coronavirus but had no immediate symptoms. They were not included in the official tally of the confirmed cases.
China on Wednesday reported the presence of 1,541 asymptomatic cases carrying the deadly novel coronavirus in the country, raising concerns of a second wave of infections amid the relaxation of stringent measures to contain the pandemic. This comes as the Chinese authorities have been under constant pressure, both domestically and from overseas, to include the number of asymptomatic cases as the pandemic continues to spread around the globe.
Asymptomatic coronavirus cases are those who carry the virus but do not show any symptoms and can cause sporadic clusters of infections.
In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said it would begin to release the data of asymptomatic patients.
A total of 1,541 asymptomatic patients infected with COVID-19 have been put under medical observation in China by the end of Monday, including 205 imported cases, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the NHC in a statement.
Besides the asymptomatic cases, there are reports of 35 new imported cases and one domestic infection, NHC said on Wednesday.
The total number of imported cases has risen to 806, it said. Seven more people have died of the disease, taking the total number to 3,312.
As of Tuesday, a total of 81,554 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 had been reported on the Chinese mainland.
China’s latest move comes as the other countries are including asymptomatic cases in their number of confirmed cases for their potential to infect others.
Classified Chinese government data seen by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post showed the number of silent carriers could be as high as one-third of those who tested positive. The data suggested more than 43,000 people on mainland China had tested positive by the end of February but had no immediate symptoms. They were not included in the official tally of the confirmed cases.
From Wednesday, China will publish the number and conditions of asymptomatic people due to heightened concerns over the risks posed by these stealth virus carriers, who were excluded from the official tally of confirmed cases, Chang Jile, head of NHC's disease control bureau, said on Tuesday.
Both asymptomatic cases and their close contacts will be quarantined in centralised facilities for 14 days. These patients won't be released until they test negative for the virus twice, he added.
The decline of coronavirus cases even in its epicentres in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan prompted China to relax its lockdown permitting people to travel out.
China, which has banned new arrivals of foreigners to minimise imported cases, is limping back to normal with most of the factories and businesses humming with activity.
While releasing the figures of the asymptomatic cases, the NHC said a previous study showed that the viral load in samples from asymptomatic infected patients is not much different from that of confirmed cases.
The symptom-free individuals infected with COVID-19 may lead to further spreading of the disease, but the infectivity of asymptomatic cases is still unclear, the NHC statement said.