China reported 130 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including the category in its daily count for the first time after pressure from the Chinese public and international health experts.
The National Health Commission said the cases took the total number of people in the country under medical observation with symptom-free infections to 1,367.
A day earlier, China said it had 1,541 asymptomatic carriers as of Monday, of which 205 were imported from overseas. Of these, 302 were removed from the total on Wednesday as they were no longer under medical observation, according to the commission.
The commission said it would report regularly on the number of coronavirus carriers who displayed no medical symptoms, amid mounting concerns about the accuracy of China’s caseload data.
In addition to the asymptomatic patients, there were 36 new infections of coronavirus in China as of Tuesday, of which 35 were imported cases.
In all, 81,554 people have been infected in mainland China since January when the country began making its infection numbers public.
The Chinese authorities have been under sustained pressure, both domestically and from overseas, to include the number of asymptomatic cases as the pandemic continues to spread around the globe.
Zhang Wenhong, director of Huashan Hospital's department of infectious diseases as well as of the Shanghai panel overseeing the treatment of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, estimated that between 18 and 31 per cent of infected patients are asymptomatic carriers.
But he added that the risk of mass community infection triggered by asymptomatic carriers remained low. Zhang also said the number of asymptomatic carriers should remain in proportion to the number of confirmed cases – falling as overall cases also dropped.
Zhang pointed out the risk of asymptomatic carriers from overseas – where infections are rising – triggering a further outbreak in China.
Classified Chinese government data seen by the South China Morning Post showed the number of silent carriers could be as high as one-third of those who tested positive. The data suggested more than 43,000 people on mainland China had tested positive by the end of February but had no immediate symptoms.
They were not included in the official tally of confirmed cases, but were placed in quarantine and monitored.
The World Health Organisation and South Korea classifies all people who test positive as confirmed cases, regardless of whether they show symptoms. However, the United States, Britain and Italy do not test people without symptoms, apart from medical workers with prolonged exposure to the virus.
Chinese health authorities have repeatedly tried to ease concerns about asymptomatic patients, saying that as many were close contacts of people with the virus, and were therefore effectively under quarantine, they would have little chance of infecting others.
A report published in late March by researchers from Tongji Medical College in Wuhan, Fudan University and Harvard University, said that roughly 60 per cent of people who contracted the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan were asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms which were not reported to the authorities.
The research followed a review of about 26,000 laboratory-confirmed cases recorded in Wuhan where the coronavirus was first identified.
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This article China’s first report of coronavirus symptom-free carriers shows 130 new cases first appeared on South China Morning Post