(Adds WHO, cruise ship arrival, Valentine’s Day, Japan death)
* Death toll surges by daily record 242 in Hubei
* New daily cases jump 14,840 under new diagnosis definition
* Jump in cases stalls share market rally
* China sacks Communist Party bosses in Hubei, Wuhan
* Quarantined ship finally docks in Cambodia
* Elderly lady is first coronavirus death in Japan
* Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2uo6QJ3
SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in deaths and thousands more infections using a broader case definition on Thursday, while Japan became the third place outside mainland China to suffer a fatality.
The epidemic has given Beijing’s communist leaders one of their biggest tests in years, constrained the world’s second largest economy and brought a purge of provincial bureaucrats. It has spread to around two dozen places beyond mainland China.
With China’s streets, restaurants and flower markets bare, a miserable Valentine’s Day was expected on Friday.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death - a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo - adding to two previous fatalities in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
In Hubei province, in central China, officials said 242 people died on Wednesday, the biggest daily rise since the flu-like virus emerged in the provincial capital Wuhan in December. Total deaths in China are 1,367.
The rise, following a forecast earlier this week by China’s senior medical adviser that the epidemic may end there by April, halted a global stocks rally.
But it appeared in large part to be due to methodology.
Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing identification of viruses.
But it has also begun using computerised tomography (CT) scans, which give images of the lungs, the Hubei health commission said, to identify cases and isolate them faster.
As a result, another 14,840 new cases were reported in the province on Thursday, from 2,015 new cases nationwide a day earlier. But excluding cases confirmed using the new methods, the number of new cases rose by only 1,508.
“It is our current understanding that the new case definition widens the net, and includes not only lab-confirmed cases but also clinically diagnosed cases based on symptoms and exposure,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters.
The new method is only being used in Hubei.
TENS OF THOUSANDS INFECTED
About 60,000 people have been infected in total, the vast majority of them in China.
Consultancy Capital Economics said the surge in deaths did not necessarily point to an acceleration in the spread of the outbreak but rather to a previous understatement of its spread.
“For now, the latest figures don’t appear to undermine the recent tentative signs that the spread of the virus may be slowing,” it said
The outbreak, believed to have emerged from a market in Wuhan where wildlife was traded illegally, has brought a backlash against local leaders.
Provincial Communist Party boss Jiang Chaoliang was sacked as secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee, and Ma Guoqiang removed as party chief in Wuhan city, state media said. They were the two highest-profile officials to be axed since the outbreak began.
The new provincial chief, former Shanghai mayor Ying Yong, told state media the situation in Hubei remained very severe, but pledged to contain the outbreak.
Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs and preliminary clinical trial results are weeks away, though WHO chiefs have cautioned a vaccine could take 18 months to develop.
Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories.
Tiny Singapore, an Asian travel hub, also reported its biggest daily jump in the number of confirmed cases, eight newly infected patients bringing its total to 58.
The biggest cluster outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, where a further 44 cases were reported on Thursday, taking the total to 219, though authorities said some elderly people would finally to be allowed to disembark on Friday.
There was a happy ending for another cruise ship, 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.
Passengers clapped and cheered on arrival in the sunset.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, remains under virtual lockdown, and other major Chinese cities face severe restrictions. People are shut indoors, commerce has dwindled and companies are adapting with innovations such as spraying workers with disinfectant in a tunnel.
Reporting by Dominique Patton, Zhang Yan, Roxanne Liu, Huizhong Wu, Min Zhang and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Winni Zhou, Brenda Goh, Josh Horwitz and David Stanway in Shanghai; Keith Zhai, John Geddie, Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Elaine Lies in Tokyo; James Pearson in Hanoi; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alex Richardson
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.