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Medics flood to Hubei to fight disease

By WANG XIAODONG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-29 04:18
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A novel coronavirus patient gives a thumbsup to doctors at a hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Monday. CHEN JING / XINHUA

Nearly 6,000 medical workers from across China would be in Hubei province by the end of Tuesday to help combat the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, the country's top health authority said on the same day, after it announced a sharp rise in the number of cases.

Confirmed cases of the virus on the Chinese mainland increased to 4,515 as of midnight on Monday, an increase of 1,771 compared with the previous day, the National Health Commission said.

The outbreak has led to 106 deaths nationwide, an increase of 26 from a day prior. In addition, the number of suspected cases around the country rose to 6,973 as of midnight Monday, it said.

Hong Kong reported eight confirmed cases, Macao seven and Taiwan five as of midnight Monday, the commission said.

Health authorities across the Chinese mainland also traced nearly 48,000 close contacts of those infected and placed them under medical observation.

In Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, 2,714 confirmed cases had been reported as of midnight Monday — almost double the number from a day before — including 1,590 in Wuhan, the provincial capital, where the outbreak was first reported, Hubei's provincial health authority said.

Since the outbreak was first reported in Wuhan last month, it has affected all provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on the Chinese mainland except for the Tibet autonomous region.

Intensified measures have been taken by authorities at different levels in China over the past few days to cope with the spread of the disease. Wuhan has been cut off from the rest of China, with limited transport restriction measures taken in some other cities. Schools across the country will postpone the new semester following an announcement from the central government.

In Hubei, overburdened medical institutions have received a total of 4,130 medical workers dispatched by health authorities across China from outside the province to assist with virus control and prevention, Jiao Yahui, deputy chief for medical administration and supervision at the National Health Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Since the first batch of medical staff was sent from Shanghai and Guangdong province on Friday, 30 medical teams have arrived in Wuhan and other cities in the province, Jiao said.

In addition, another 1,800 were expected to arrive in Wuhan by Tuesday night, bringing the total number of healthcare workers to nearly 6,000, she added.

"The medical workers are specialized in different areas, including respiratory and infectious diseases, and many of them are very experienced in similar emergency relief operations and have taken part in fighting the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 or helped controlling the Ebola outbreak in Africa," Jiao said.

The commission has also arranged psychologists to provide consultations for some of the medical staff to help them deal with stress, and local authorities in Hubei have provided assistance, including booking hotels near hospitals where medics work, Jiao said, adding that their basic living and working conditions will be taken good care of.

Authorities in Wuhan are also intensifying efforts to increase the number of beds to cope with the increasing number of patients, including building two new hospitals, she said. The two facilities, expected to be completed within 10 days, will provide up to 2,300 total additional beds, she said.

Another 14 hospitals in the city will reserve an additional 6,000 beds for patients with the virus, which will result in more than 10,000 beds available in the city for such patients, Jiao said.

Li Xingwang, chief infectious diseases expert at Beijing Ditan Hospital, said asymptomatic cases of the virus have been recently found in many places around the country, which have increased difficulties in preventing and controlling the virus.

Medical workers have identified people who tested positive for the virus but have not displayed expected symptoms. Some patients, though, just show less serious symptoms such as mild coughs, but they can also be infectious, Li said.

"It is important for the public to take precautionary measures, such as wearing masks when going out and minimizing close contact with others," he said. "They should also be careful not to contaminate their hands with the virus, and should wash hands frequently to prevent chances of infection."

Ma Xiaowei, minister of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing over the weekend that a recent study has revealed that the virus seems to be becoming more infectious and is spreading at a faster rate, and severe challenges face virus control and prevention efforts.

"We will make all out efforts on disease control and prevention," Ma said. "With our experience in the prevention and control of major public health incidents and relying on medical workers and the public, we are confident of winning the battle."

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