RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There are grim numbers coming out of China today. Health officials say there are more than 15,000 new cases of the coronavirus, and 254 people have died since yesterday. Almost all the new cases are in Hubei province, which is the center of the epidemic. NPR's Emily Feng is reporting this story. She joins us now from Shanghai.
Emily, so these numbers are just startling. Yesterday, the increase was about 1,600 new cases - today, more than 15,000. What's happening?
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: It all comes down with the difference in how they're counting cases now. It sounds very technical. It kind of is. But it has huge implications for how we understand where this outbreak is going. Basically, what happened was, about a week ago, health authorities in China decided that they were going to ask local provinces to give them four different types of numbers - confirmed cases of people with the virus, suspected cases, asymptomatic cases, meaning people were - had tested positive for the virus but weren't showing illness, and people who were showing symptoms of the illness but had not yet tested positive or could not be tested. Today, Hubei province became the first province to disclose the last category that I just mentioned, these so-called clinical cases. And because they are now disclosed (inaudible).
MARTIN: We're trying to get NPR's Emily Feng back. She is on the line from Shanghai talking about the new numbers out of China related to the coronavirus. There've been 15,000 new cases defined today, and 254 people have died. That is just since yesterday. We're trying to get Emily back on the line. Emily, can you hear me?
FENG: Oh, yeah. Sorry.
MARTIN: OK, you're back. That's OK.
FENG: I didn't realize I disconnected.
MARTIN: That's OK. We've got you back on the line. Can you explain this new way of counting the coronaviruses? Does that mean the disease is spreading more rapidly, or it sounds like they're just lowering the standard for how they're incorporating people into this category?
FENG: We don't know. The - what they're now disclosing are what they're calling clinical cases. These are people who display all the symptoms of the virus but either have not yet been officially tested or have been tested and have turned up negative. Hubei is the only province so far to do this. That's why we've seen that huge spike in numbers from Hubei province alone. Other provinces may follow.
But a big reason behind why they're now disclosing this new category of cases is because the testing kits that local governments have been using are running out. And to be honest, they're not very good. They often turn up negative results even when a person has the virus.
MARTIN: So, I mean, is this changing at all how the government is dealing with the epidemic?
FENG: We shall have to see. It's definitely turned the models upside down of when authorities in China thought this outbreak was going to peak. A few days ago, the country's top epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, said he expected the outbreak to peak sometime in late February, so just in two weeks' time. Now that we see the surge in numbers from Hubei, that model likely does not hold, and China's going to have to think of more long-term options of how to quarantine people and treat people as hospitals are overloaded.
MARTIN: So there's obviously this massive human toll with the coronavirus, but I know you have also been looking into the economic impact. What can you tell us?
FENG: Yeah. I'm actually on the streets of Shanghai right now, which is why the connection is so bad. But we've been visiting major electronics factories in Shanghai and around Shanghai. These factories supply things like our Apple iPhones and the electronics we use day to day. Unfortunately, they have not been able to restart because workers are currently under quarantine. They haven't been able to travel freely. Cities themselves are not taking migrant workers. And so we're seeing this huge slowdown of some of the biggest companies in China that have multinational clients whose products we use every day. So we are going to be feeling the impact as well from this outbreak.
MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng reporting from Shanghai. Thank you, Emily.
FENG: Thanks, Rachel.
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