Despite official figures reporting few to no new domestic COVID-19 cases on the Chinese mainland in recent days, authorities continue to detect more infections, with those in the city at the heart of the country's outbreak often amounting to more than a dozen a day, Caixin has learned.
According to a member of the infectious disease prevention and control team in Wuhan, every day the city continues to record "several or more than a dozen asymptomatic infected individuals," or people that test positive for the new coronavirus but do not feel ill and are excluded from published numbers.
As of Sunday, Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located, experienced four consecutive days with no "confirmed cases."
The team member, who requested anonymity, said these asymptomatic people are found by tracing the contacts of others who are infected and by screening quarantine workers who are at high risk of infection, as opposed to testing en masse.
"It's not possible at the moment to tell if transmission has stopped," the person said.
As new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus have reportedly dwindled, China has moved to send home the teams of medical personnel it brought in from across the country to assist hospital workers in Hubei. Between March 17 and March 20, some 12,000 medical personnel departed the province.
But the infectious disease prevention and control team has stayed behind, after Hubei's provincial COVID-19 task force on Friday ordered it to remain until central authorities say otherwise, Caixin has learned.
According to a person at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this team of specialists was kept in Hubei because the central government continues to feel uneasy about the situation in the area, in part because of asymptomatic individuals.
Since February, COVID-19 prevention and control policies issued by the National Health Commission have stipulated that asymptomatic infected individuals are not considered confirmed cases and that their numbers should not be released.
However, given numerous studies suggesting that this group is infectious, the NHC has required that, once detected, they be subject to a 14-day quarantine and lab testing, recategorizing them as confirmed cases only if they develop symptoms.
Caixin previously obtained data that showed Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province had 480 confirmed cases on Feb. 25, but had also discovered 104 asymptomatic infected individuals that it left off the public tally.
A March 6 study by Chinese and American researchers that has yet to be peer-reviewed suggested that asymptomatic cases and those with mild symptoms could account for at least 59% of COVID-19 infections, potentially undetected and fueling its spread.
Considering Wuhan is the epicenter of China's epidemic, "there's still a lot that needs to be investigated and traced," the control team member said.