The number of daily coronavirus infections in South Korea could exceed those in China, with Beijing reporting 433 new cases on Thursday - slightly higher than the 406 of a day earlier - while South Korean cases surged on Thursday morning to 334, bringing its total infections to 1,595.
If the number of new infections reported by Seoul continues to rise at the rate of recent days, South Korea's cases could surpass China's as early as Thursday afternoon, when health officials there are due to report their latest figures.
China's National Health Commission said 409 of its new cases were reported in Hubei province - the epicentre of the outbreak. So far, 78,497 people on the mainland have been infected. There were 29 new deaths reported on Thursday morning, bringing the death toll to 2,744. The commission said a total of 32,495 patients had recovered from the illness.
But cases outside Hubei returned to double digits, with 24 cases reported, a jump from just nine and five cases over the past two days respectively.
More than half of the new cases in South Korea came from a branch of a secretive Christian sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu. The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese authorities are screening members of the sect in China.
So far, 13 people have died in South Korea from the fast-spreading virus. Other major provinces and cities have also reported some infections, with Seoul reporting another six cases, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement.
US health officials said on Wednesday they had detected a possible case of "community spread" of Covid-19 - the disease caused by the new coronavirus - with a patient testing positive for the virus, despite having no travel history to places with outbreaks or of being exposed to someone already infected.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statement was released soon after President Donald Trump said in a White House press briefing that he had appointed Vice-President Mike Pence to lead the effort to contain the spread of the illness.
Community transmission - in which multiple cases are detected without any clear source of infection - could significantly weaken the effectiveness of containment measures such as travel restrictions.
The deadly new coronavirus has spread to more than 40 countries outside China, with additional European countries reporting infections related to Italy, the continent's worst-affected country.
Greece confirmed its first case on Wednesday, while Finland and Sweden both reported their second cases. All three patients had been to northern Italy. Norway also announced its first case, a patient who had returned from China late last week.
Separately, Georgia - bordering Russia and Turkey - confirmed its first case, a 50-year-old Georgian national who had arrived from Iran, which has the most fatalities outside China. Pakistan also reported its first two cases of novel coronavirus on Wednesday.
The virus has now spread to six of the seven continents, with Brazil confirming its first case on Wednesday. The patient is a 61-year-old Sao Paulo resident who recently travelled to Lombardy - one of two northern Italian regions at the centre of the outbreak in Europe - for work from February 9 to 21.
North Macedonia also confirmed its first case of coronavirus infection, a Macedonian woman who recently returned home from Italy.
China's foreign ministry said it had protested to the US embassy in Beijing over a Wall Street Journal commentary it deemed racist.
China would take further action if the US added more restrictions to Chinese news agencies in the US, according to Hua Chunying, the ministry's head of information.
Hua hit back at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks that China's expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters - in retaliation for the article - was a violation of press freedom.
The newspaper commentary, headlined "China is the real sick man of Asia" triggered condemnation among Chinese officials and the online community.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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