China on Wednesday began publishing a daily coronavirus update with asymptomatic cases, in response to growing public concern that "silent" carriers may cause another outbreak as more people return to work after lockdowns are relaxed.
The National Health Commission reported 36 new cases of coronavirus infection for the mainland, all but one from people arriving from abroad, as well as 130 new asymptomatic cases in the 24 hours to the end of Tuesday.
(Posters seen on a street in Beijing on March 31, 2020, tell pedestrians what to do to avoid being infected with the new coronavirus.)
In total, there were 1,367 asymptomatic patients still under medical observation, down 174 from the previous day, the commission said.
The only locally transmitted case reported occurred in Guangdong Province.
The tally of confirmed cases for mainland China now stands at 81,554, with the number of new infections found in travelers from abroad reaching 806.
It also reported seven more deaths, one in Shanghai and six in Hubei Province, where the capital Wuhan is located, taking the total number of fatalities on the mainland to 3,312.
Authorities will step up screening, testing and isolation of asymptomatic patients -- people who have tested positive without showing any COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat -- said Chang Jile, a top national health official, at a press conference in Wuhan on Tuesday.
Until now, asymptomatic cases have not been released as part of the national tally. Chinese officials repeatedly said such cases posed a low risk of transmission.
But a recent study by researchers at the Ningbo Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, found that the infection rate of asymptomatic patients could be nearly the same as those with symptoms.
Under similar guidelines as symptomatic patients, asymptomatic patients and their close contacts will be put under a mandatory 14-day quarantine immediately upon discovery, Chang said, adding that they must test negative for the virus twice, at least a day apart, before being discharged.
Asymptomatic patients will be counted as confirmed cases once they start to show clinical symptoms, Chang said.