April 1 (UPI) -- China reported a surge in new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday after it included asymptomatic cases in its daily update for the first time.
Beijing's National Health Commission reported 36 confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus, 33 of which were imported, continuing a trend of more cases entering from outside the country than those transmitted locally.
However, the daily tally included 130 people who tested positive for COVID-19 without exhibiting any symptoms.
The move to include asymptomatic cases follows Premier Li Keqiang urging health officials on Saturday to pay close attention to patients without symptoms, who can spread the virus without detection.
On Tuesday, China's National Health Commission announced it had more than 1,500 asymptomatic patients under medical observation, and most of those cases were locally transmitted.
The combined 166 new cases China reported Wednesday is its highest increase since early last month.
Beijing said Wednesday it has recorded more than 81,500 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in December, although that number hadn't accounted for the asymptomatic cases. The commission also said two formerly asymptomatic patients were reclassified as confirmed cases after they began to exhibit symptoms.
Officials said seven more people died Tuesday, increasing China's toll to 3,312.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said Wednesday afternoon that health officials expect the number of cases worldwide to top 1 million and the number of deaths to top 50,000 in the coming days.
"Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new COVID-19 cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area. The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week," Ghebreyesus said during a WHO briefing in Geneva.
"I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection."
Ghebreyesus said he's concerned about the virus' effect on both the health and economic status of the world's poor and those who are most vulnerable. He called on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to implement programs to give debt relief to prevent the possibility of economic collapse.