BEIJING -- Health authorities in China's Hubei province reported 14,840 new cases of coronavirus Thursday morning, bringing the nationwide total to nearly 60,000.
The daily count for Hubei -- the epicenter of the epidemic -- was more than nine times the 1,638 new infections reported there a day earlier.
The new numbers don't indicate rapid overnight spread of the virus in Hubei, but a change in the way patients are counted there.
Under new reporting requirements, cases are considered confirmed based on symptoms and a CT scan of the lungs.
Previously, confirmation depended on a laboratory test -- a time-consuming requirement that left a large backlog of untested, suspected cases.
Many critically sick patients with symptoms but no confirmation of infection had complained that they were being turned away from hospitals. An unknown number have died from the viral disease -- known as COVID-19 -- without ever having been recorded as a confirmed case.
Nearly 90% of the new cases reported Thursday were "clinically diagnosed" patients, meaning they were confirmed under the new rules.
Wang Chen, dean of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, told Chinese media Thursday that the change in requirements was "extremely necessary" because the laboratory test -- which detects a particular sequence of nucleic acids -- was not accurate enough.
"Many patients who appeared to be (infected with COVID-19) based on their epidemiological history, contact history and clinical symptoms were not able to test positive on the nucleic acid test, and were listed as 'suspected cases,' " he said.
He said the test kits often failed to accurately detect infections and suggested that the new criteria would provide a better measure of the epidemic's scale.