BEIJING: China on Wednesday (Apr 1) said it has more than 1,300 asymptomatic coronavirus cases, the first time it has released such data following public concern over people who have tested positive but are not showing symptoms.
Health officials also reported the first imported case from abroad in Wuhan - the epicentre where the virus first emerged late last year - heightening fears of infections being brought into China from other countries.
Of 36 new cases reported Wednesday, 35 were imported from abroad.
Chinese health authorities began reporting on asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus as part of an effort to allay public fears that people could be spreading the virus without knowing they are infected with it.
Historical data on those infected without showing symptoms has not been published.
China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, has managed to bring its outbreak under control and is easing travel restrictions in virus hot spots.
But there are concerns that the end of lockdowns will see thousands of infectious people move back into daily life without knowing they carry the virus, because they have no symptoms and so have not been tested.
The number of known asymptomatic cases has previously been classified, and it is not included in the official data, though the South China Morning Post newspaper, citing unpublished official documents, recently said it was more than 40,000.
In an effort to dispel public fears about hidden cases of the virus, the government has this week ordered health authorities to turn their attention to finding asymptomatic cases and releasing their data on them.
Health authorities in Liaoning province were the fist to do so on Wednesday, saying the province had 52 cases of people with the coronavirus who showed no symptoms as of Mar 31, they said in a statement on a provincial government website.
Hunan province said it had four such cases, all of them imported from abroad, it said in a statement on its website.
The National Health Commission is due to start reporting aggregate, national data on asymptomatic cases later on Wednesday.
There is debate among experts about how infectious asymptomatic cases are but the commission has said all cases would be centrally quarantined for 14 days. It said 1,541 people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections were under observation as of the end of Monday.
Experts agree that asymptomatic patients are likely to be infectious, but it remains unknown how responsible they are for spreading the deadly virus.
Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan said in a state media interview last week that asymptomatic carriers could potentially infect "3 to 3.5 people each".
Many other countries including South Korea and Japan count asymptomatic cases in their national tallies of confirmed
China has had more than 81,000 cases of the coronavirus and 3,305 deaths.