Hong Kong | The daily coronavirus death toll has doubled to 242 in China's Hubei province, spooking markets in Australia and offshore after authorities reported a tenfold jump in the infection rate.
The Australian sharemarket dipped and Wall Street futures opened 0.5 per cent lower after Hubei province reported 14,840 new cases of the virus in a single day.
The spike in reported cases, up from 1,638 a day earlier, came after authorities went door to door rounding up suspected victims of the virus and stepped up testing efforts.
The huge numbers will test China's claims it was confident of containing the outbreak by April.
The Australian dollar also dipped, down from US67.36¢ to US67.07¢.
China will report daily figures for the rest of the country later Thursday. The number of new cases in other parts of the country outside Hubei, which is quarantined, has been falling.
The total death toll in China is 1,355.
China's leaders have ordered local authorities to avoid mass lay-offs and offer private companies tax relief and other support as they battle to stabilise the world's second-largest economy while trying to contain the deadly coronavirus.
With thousands of private companies facing bankruptcy after a month-long shutdown, the Chinese Communist Party's top decision-making body said the economy must be re-started "in an orderly way".
The Politburo Standing Committee emphasised support for medical supplies, daily necessities and energy supplies such as coal and oil and gas - all of which are important exports for Australia.
The move came as China's struggles to balance the need to re-start the economy with keeping the virus contained. Measures vary from city to city in China, where many factories remained closed and employees are unable to return to work.
"While ensuring effective outbreak response, a category-based approach should be adopted in resuming production in an orderly manner," China's Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying in state media on Thursday after chairing the meeting.
"We must make every effort to ensure supplies for outbreak response and daily necessities to maintain economic progress and people’s life."
China is also promising support for small and medium businesses hardest hit by a month-long enforced shutdown. Many expect to go bankrupt as they struggle to pay wages and rents without any income.