The province of Hubei in China reported 242 deaths from the coronavirus, the deadliest day since the outbreak of the virus was made public, and pushing the death toll to 1,355. In the rest of the world, 490 people are infected and only one person has died.
The virus is believed to have originated late a year ago at a seafood market in Hubei province's capital Wuhan.
About 60,000 people have now been confirmed to have the virus, the vast majority in China. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for identification of organisms like viruses.
The deaths and cases due to the COVID-19, the official name of the disease as designated by the WHO, were reported by the end of Wednesday in 31 provincial-level regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in China, Xinhua news agency quoted Mi Feng, a spokesperson with the National Health Commission, as saying.
Dozens of low-level health officials across the country have also lost their jobs for failing to contain the epidemic, which is believed to have emerged from a market in Wuhan where wildlife was traded illegally.
Although provincial authorities have not provided additional details about the new criteria for accounting for patients, the new measures will allow "patients to receive timely treatment", the commission said in a statement. In late January, the World Health Organization declared a Global Health Emergency of International Concern in light of the rapidly spreading epidemic.
The WHO has held a two-day meeting aimed at speeding up the development of tests, drugs and vaccines for the new virus, but experts have warned that treatments may be months away.
Japan's Health Ministry announced Thursday that 44 more people on a cruise ship quarantined in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, have tested positive for COVID-19.
There was a happy ending for another liner, the MS Westerdam, which docked in Cambodia after being barred from Guam, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears that one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew might have the virus - even though none had tested positive.
"Just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment", Angela Jones, an American tourist on the ship, told Reuters.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, remains under virtual lockdown, and other major Chinese cities are facing severe travel restrictions.
"The new charts of infection rates look much more worrying, and have certainly dealt a blow to the narrative that things were beginning to improve, putting the gains of the past few days in doubt", said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.
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