Story at a glance

  • Chinese authorities acknowledged Friday their methods of confirming infections had caused confusion.
  • Officials last week expanded the criteria to include “clinically confirmed” cases, then reversed course this week, subtracting the number of cases.
  • On Friday authorities announced those cases would be added back and cases will no longer be subtracted from existing totals.

Chinese public health officials have changed the criteria for counting coronavirus cases for the third time in more than a week, prompting confusion about the exact number of cases in the country and whether the epidemic is stabilizing. 

Authorities in Hubei province, the home to the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak, changed their count of cases due to revised definitions of what constitutes a confirmed case. 

The first change took place last week after authorities in Hubei expanded the criteria to include “clinically diagnosed” cases. These were patients who showed symptoms but had not been tested or were believed to have falsely tested negative. The change prompted a reported spike in diagnoses.


On Wednesday, Chinese authorities changed course and excluded clinically confirmed cases from the tally. 

Adding to the confusion Friday, Hubei authorities announced during a news conference that the provincial government banned the practice of subtracting the number of already confirmed cases. Officials said cases that were confirmed but then dismissed would be added back to the total count.

“These adjustments in numbers have attracted huge public attention, causing some doubts about the data. As a result, Ying Yong, secretary of the provincial Party committee, attached great importance to this issue. He explicitly ordered that no subtraction be allowed for already-confirmed cases and all subtractions be added back,” Tu Yuanchao, deputy director of Hubei Health Committee, said during a press conference Friday, according to CNN

China reported a drop in new confirmed cases Wednesday, announcing just 394 new cases, the lowest number of daily infections in weeks. But Friday, the number of cases in China increased to 889, according to the country’s National Health Commission. 

The total number of infected people in China is more than 75,000, with more than 2,200 deaths.

Published on Feb 21, 2020