China's President Xi Jinping has hailed "hard-won progress" to halt the spread of coronavirus, as experts fear the deadly disease has not reached its peak.

The Chinese leader chaired a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee on Wednesday, claiming strict quarantine measures in the country were working.

"The results are hard-won progress made by all sides," Xi said.

He also demanded an improvement for patient treatment and to "restore economic and social" order, according to Chinese state media reports.

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It comes after a visit to Beijing earlier this week in which the Chinese leader wore a blue surgical mask to send a subtle message in his first public appearance since the outbreak began.

He met with doctors and was photographed having his body temperature taken with an infra-red thermometer.

He smiled as he waved to members of the public, and at one point even joked to the surrounding media crowd: "Let's not shake hands."

Experts have repeatedly said the basic mask does not make for effective protection against the virus, unlike the more expensive and increasingly scarce N95 masks.

Lijian Zhao, Deputy Director General of Information Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Xi wore the ordinary medical mask to signal to the Chinese people not to panic.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a protective face mask speaks to residents as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work. Photo / AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a protective face mask speaks to residents as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work. Photo / AP

"President Xi Jinping only wears an ordinary medical mask, which sends a signal that we should use masks correctly and not panic.

"This is in line with the rule that officials in Beijing are not allowed to use N95 masks as they are reserved for medical workers fighting at the front," Zhao said.

Surgical masks like the one Xi wore do not provide respiratory protection, but are simple barrier protectors.

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These do provide protection against droplets and large respiratory particles, and also stop you from touching your nose or mouth, which can be one way of spreading the coronavirus.

But more importantly, his message is a sign that the leader is attempting to be reassuring to the people, as trust in the Chinese Communist Party wanes.

It doesn't help that Xi went nowhere near Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, for his mask stunt. The Beijing hospital he visited was more than 1000km away from the locked-down zone, where there have been more than 1000 deaths.

A convention centre in Wuhan has been converted into a temporary hospital in Wuhan. Photo / AP
A convention centre in Wuhan has been converted into a temporary hospital in Wuhan. Photo / AP

The coronavirus death toll has risen to 1486, and a total of 65,213 confirmed cases. Chinese authorities are facing intense scrutiny over the accuracy of figures in the outbreak. Many claim the virus could become the "Chernobyl moment" for the leadership.

China's Hubei province reported an extra 4823 coronavirus infection cases and 116 new deaths, in the second day after the region at the centre of the outbreak changed its method for counting infections.

This was lower than the 14,840 cases that Hubei added when it first started counting patients with the new method.

On Thursday the coronavirus broke a tragic record, as the illness killed 242 people in China in a single day.

The 242 deaths from Hubei were more than double the announcement of the previous day.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories. Three people have died from the virus outside mainland China — one in Hong Kong, one in the Philippines and one in Japan.

Shoppers look for groceries at a supermarket in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Photo / AP
Shoppers look for groceries at a supermarket in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Photo / AP

Experts said there were no signs the virus was nearing its peak.

"Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late," said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney.

Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs and preliminary results are weeks away. However, WHO officials have warned a vaccine will be one or two years away.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned any apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with "extreme caution".

"This outbreak could still go in any direction," he told a briefing in Geneva earlier this week.

China axes officials as criticism mounts

The Chinese government is firing officials in Hubei province as Beijing faces increasing criticism over its handling of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

A Malaysian national holding a child being directed onto a bus by health officials in protective suits. Photo / AP
A Malaysian national holding a child being directed onto a bus by health officials in protective suits. Photo / AP

Senior Communist Party officials have been removed and replaced by figures from other provinces, echoing what happened in China during the Sars outbreak.

Hubei party secretary Jiang Chaoliang has been replaced by Shanghai mayor Ying Yong, 61, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to the country's Xinhua news agency.

Wuhan city leader Ma Guoqiang will be replaced by Wang Zhonglin, the party secretary of the city of Jinan.

Chen Yixin, another Beijing heavyweight, was flown into Hubei last week to take charge of handling the outbreak.

"Hubei province and Wuhan must further strengthened management and control over exits from the areas … to put a stop of the spread," state broadcaster CCTV said.

Soldiers stand on the tarmac as they watch the arrival of Brazilians repatriated from Wuhan, China. Photo / AP
Soldiers stand on the tarmac as they watch the arrival of Brazilians repatriated from Wuhan, China. Photo / AP

The move comes as Xi called on the nation to get back to business.

According to the South China Morning Post, he said there had been "positive changes" with "positive results", reiterating that all levels of local government and Communist Party committees must achieve China's social and development goals this year.

On Thursday, the Chinese president announced an extra 2600 military medical personnel would be sent to Wuhan to treat patients, taking the total number of reinforcements to 4000.