Chinese health authorities will include asymptomatic cases of the novel coronavirus in their official count starting Wednesday, according to an announcement on Tuesday.
The move during growing public concern over asymptomatic cases, of which 1,541 were under medical observation in China by the end of Monday, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). This includes including 205 cases imported from overseas.
Officials will further tighten screening and quarantine rules targeting asymptomatic cases — defined as people who have tested positive for the virus without displaying any symptoms — said Chang Jile, a senior official with the NHC, at a press conference in Wuhan.
Until now, asymptomatic cases have not been counted as confirmed cases under Chinese government guidelines.
Asymptomatic cases and their close contacts will be isolated for 14 days immediately upon discovery.
Their quarantine will only be lifted after they twice test negative for coronavirus in tests administered 24 hours apart. If they develop symptoms during isolation, they will become confirmed cases and undergo treatment at designated hospitals.
On Monday, a task force on the virus chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s deputy leader, urged “placing priority on asymptomatic cases, from detection, contact tracing, to isolation and treatment, in order to lock in previous gains and plug potential loopholes in the containment,” according to a government statement.
A woman in Henan province in central China was infected with the deadly virus last week after encountering a friend, a local doctor who was later identified as an asymptomatic case.
As the Chinese government prepares to lift lockdown measures at the original epicenter of the pandemic, the Henan story has stirred intense interest and anxiety over how infectious asymptomatic carriers are, and whether the authorities have been transparent enough in reporting such cases.