The vast majority of the deaths were in the provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, according to a daily update from the Hubei health commission.

Shanghai Ballet dancers wearing masks practice in a dance studio in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. February 20, 2020.
Shanghai Ballet dancers wearing masks practice in a dance studio in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. February 20, 2020. (Aly Song / Reuters)

China reported another fall in new virus cases on Friday as medical professionals reverted to laboratory-based diagnoses of new cases. Chinese health officials expressed continued optimism over containment of the outbreak that has caused more than 2,200 deaths but has grown elsewhere.

Changes in how health authorities have counted cases have muddied the true trajectory of the epidemic.

“The downward trend will not be reversed,” Ding Xiangyang, deputy chief secretary of the State Council and a member of the central government’s supervision group, said on Thursday.

China's count of 889 cases in the previous 24 hours brought its total to 75,465. The 118 newly reported deaths raised the total to 2,236. More than 1,000 cases and 11 deaths have been confirmed outside the mainland.

The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 118 new deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 99 people died. 

China last week had started recording new cases without waiting for laboratory results, causing a significant spike in the number of cases.

Virus breakout in Chinese prisons

More than 500 cases of the new coronavirus have been detected in prisons across China, officials said on Friday, fuelling concerns about new clusters of the epidemic. 

Hubei said on Friday that 271 cases were reported by its prisons on Thursday, including 220 that had previously not been known to provincial authorities.

Local Communist Party newspaper Hubei Daily reported that 230 of the prison cases came from a single facility, the Wuhan Women's Prison, whose warden has been removed for failing to prevent the outbreak, while the other 41 cases were reported at a facility in Shayang county.

The national infection figure has yet to be adjusted to account for the 271 new cases in Hubei prisons, causing a discrepancy and some confusion about the total numbers just a day after new infections fell to the lowest in weeks.

Australians from Japan ship test positive

Two Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus, authorities said on Friday, raising questions about Japan's policy of allowing evacuees from the ship to move freely after testing negative for the disease.

"We have two people who are positive for the Covid-19 virus. Those two people have mild illness," said Dianne Stephens, acting chief health officer for the Northern Territories.

Some 164 Australians aboard the Diamond Princess were cleared for transfer from the ship to quarantine in Australia's remote north.

Australia now has 17 cases of coronavirus, though several dozens citizens remain on the Diamond Princess in Japan after contracting the disease while on the cruise ship.

Australia had not had a case of coronavirus since February 1 when it barred entry to those arriving directly from mainland China.

The ban was extended on Thursday until at least February 29. 

Iran deaths

Iran's health ministry on Friday reported two more deaths among 13 new cases of coronavirus in the country, bringing the total number of deaths to four and infections to 18.

A day earlier, Iraq banned border crossings by Iranian nationals for three days from Thursday amid fears of the virus, Iraq's state news agency said on Thursday.

The decision came after Iraqi Airways suspended flights to Iran.

Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, Iran’s deputy health minister, said the victims did not appear to have had any contact with Chinese nationals.

Iran’s health minister Saeed Namaki said the roughly 60 Iranian students evacuated from Wuhan had been quarantined upon their return to Iran and were discharged after 14 days without any health problems.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies