More than 14,800 new cases of the coronavirus have been reported in China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the outbreak.

Health officials in the country have been using a new method to identify cases of COVID-19, the disease which is caused by the coronavirus.

A total of 242 people died from the flu-like virus on Wednesday – the fastest rise since the pathogen was identified in December.

There had been optimism that the number of infections was beginning to slow down. On Tuesday, China had reported its lowest number of new COVID-19 cases in two weeks.

But the World Health Organisation had warned that the apparent slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus epidemic should be treated with extreme caution.

A total of 48,206 cases of COVID-19 are now being treated in Hubei province alone, most of them in the city of Wuhan.

According to the region’s health commission, 33,693 people are still being treated in hospital – and 5,647 of them are said to be critically ill.

More than 158,000 people who came into close contact with COVID-19 patients are being tracked in Hubei, and 77,308 people are under medical observation.

In other developments:

  • The outbreak has now sickened more than 60,000 people across China, and 1,310 have died in total
  • Dozens of Britons rescued from Wuhan are going to be released after two weeks of quarantine in Merseyside
  • London has had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, taking the total number of patients in the UK to nine
  • The World Health Organisation has warned this outbreak could still go in any direction
  • Several events – including the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – have been cancelled
  • A second patient has tested positive for COVID-19 in San Diego, California

Fresh uncertainty

It is not immediately clear what the region’s new method for diagnosing COVID-19 is, or why the number of fatalities has risen so sharply over the past 24 hours.

Global markets had surged to record highs when Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese medical adviser who played a role in combating the SARS outbreak in 2003, predicted that COVID-19 cases will peak this month.

The latest figures from Hubei province will spark fears that an end to disruption in the world’s second-largest economy is far from over.

One health expert has warned that countries around the world are only at the beginning of the outbreak. Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than 20 countries, but only two people have died from COVID-19 outside of China to date.

And Dr Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergency programme, has cautioned that it is too early to predict the beginning, the middle or end of the epidemic.

Vaccine could be months away

Tests have been taking place to see whether antiviral drugs used to treat HIV are effective against the coronavirus – however, results are only expected in a few weeks.

The WHO has held a two-day meeting aimed at speeding up the development of tests, drugs and vaccines for the new virus, but experts have warned that treatments may be months away.

Across China, more than 60 million people have been affected by an unprecedented lockdown.

Cruise ship docks

A cruise ship turned away by five countries over fears that someone on board has the coronavirus has docked in Cambodia after two weeks at sea.

The MS Westerdam arrived early on Thursday morning – and one passenger on board said just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment.

Passengers on board the ship have been subjected to regular health checks throughout the troubled journey.

Even though no one on board has fallen ill, the ship was denied permission to dock by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.

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(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus cases rise sharply as 242 people die in a single day