China announced some 15,000 additional cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus on Thursday, a huge increase due to what they say is a definitional change in how they diagnose the virus.

A chest X-ray is now sufficient to diagnose the virus instead of a nucleic acid test, authorities said. The Hubei Health Commission announced 242 new deaths in the province, the largest increase in 24 hours since the crisis began in December.

The announcement came shortly after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the number of newly-confirmed cases of the coronavirus had “stabilised” but that it was “way too early” to say if the outbreak has been contained.

The infection has not been reported in any new countries since February 4, and of the 48 new cases confirmed outside China on Tuesday, 40 were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan.

“We have a window of opportunity to shut this virus down,” Michael Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies department, told reporters in Geneva.

As he was speaking, organisers announced the cancellation of the 2020 Mobile World Congress, due to be held in Barcelona this month, due to “global concern” over the infection. The GSMA said the announcement was made “with due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country” and that the city “respects and understands this decision.”

Yet the WHO said there was no reason to cancel such events as long as a proper risk assessment had taken place.

Information about the spread of the new coronavirus is becoming clearer, Ryan told the news conference, with only eight cases worldwide in which the source of the transmission could not be explained.

However, he emphasised caution, saying it was “far too early today to try to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic.”

Isolating the outbreak epicentre of Wuhan, and reducing flights to and from the worst-affected region, have limited potential further spread, the news conference heard.

“The number of newly confirmed cases reported from China has stabilized over the past week, but that must be interpreted with extreme caution,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This outbreak could still go in any direction.”

He also took a swipe at countries who had refused to allow a cruise ship to dock, saying that such decisions were taken “often without an evidence-based risk assessment.”

He said the WHO had issued guidance on how to handle public health events on large ships “and we urge countries and companies to follow that guidance.”

He thanked Cambodia, which earlier agreed to accept the MS Westerdam, saying it was “an example of the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for.”

“Outbreaks can bring out the best and worst in people,” he said. “Stigmatizing individuals or entire nations does nothing but harm the response. Instead of directing all our energy against the outbreak, stigma diverts our attention and turns people against each other. I will say it again: this is a time for solidarity, not stigma.”

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