While infections and deaths from the new virus in China ballooned for a second straight day on Friday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the health commission was “highly concerned” by the infections.
Dr Ghebreyesus said this new figure was a “critical piece of information” because health workers are “the glue that holds the health system and the outbreak response together”.
“We need to know more about these figures, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick,” he said.
Vice Minister Zeng Yixin said at a press conference about protecting medical workers, added that the number of infected medical staff is increasing as Chinese officials and hospitals have repeatedly noted a shortage of protective equipment, including face masks, as the disease took hold in Hubei and spread throughout the country.
WHO echoed that transmissions to frontline health workers can signal problems in infection control policies and signal that a disease is becoming more easily transmissible.
As of Saturday, the death toll from China’s new coronavirus epidemic surged past 1,500 after 139 more people died in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.
The province’s health commission also reported 2,420 new cases of the COVID-19 strain, about half the number from the previous day.
More than 66,000 people have now been infected, with most deaths occurring in Hubei.
The scale of the epidemic swelled this week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to their tally.
Officials near the epicentre of the outbreak struggled to keep up with a backlog of patients’ lab work, as public health experts wrestled with what exactly could be deduced from the numbers given the shift in approach.
“If you change the way you count cases, that obviously confounds our capacity to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of the quarantine,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in the United States.
“We have to interpret the numbers with great caution.”
Cases “clinically diagnosed” through lung imaging are now counted in addition to those that have shown up positive in laboratory tests.
“We’re seeking further clarity on how clinical diagnoses are being made to ensure other respiratory illnesses including influenza are not getting mixed into the COVID-19 data,” Dr Ghebreyesus added,
Dr Schaffner said he was optimistic that China’s unprecedented quarantines – putting 60 million people in its hardest-hit cities under lockdown – would help reduce transmissions. But without consistent numbers, he said, it was hard to draw any such conclusion.
“China and the world community would like to restore a sense of normalcy but in order to do that we need to have confidence in what is going on and we’re not there yet,” Schaffner said.
CHINA UNDER ‘INTENSE’ WATCH
China has come under “intense criticism” within the country for its response to the crisis and has been the target of complaints from elsewhere too. But WHO’s chief of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, defended China’s handling of the outbreak and its co-operation with others.
“From our perspective, we have a government that’s co-operating with us, that’s inviting in international experts, that’s shared sequences with the world, that continues to engage with the outside community,” he said.
The vast majority of cases are in China but reverberations from the outbreak were felt around the world, with hundreds of infections reported elsewhere. More than 580 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, including the first infection on the African continent, reported Friday in Egypt. Experts and African leaders have expressed concern that should the virus spread there, it might wreak havoc among less developed countries with fewer health resources. There have been three fatalities, in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.
However China’s President Xi Jinping has hailed “hard-won progress” to halt the spread of coronavirus, as experts fear we have not yet seen the peak of the deadly disease.
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.
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.
President Xi Jinping only wears an ordinary medical mask, which sends a signal that we should use masks correctly & 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. pic.twitter.com/HWEniZnYNW
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) February 11, 2020
Lijian Zhao, Deputy Director General of Information Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Mr Xi wore the ordinary medical mask to signal to the Chinese people not to panic.
“President Xi Jinping only wears an ordinary medical mask, which sends a signal that we should use masks correctly & 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,” said Mr Zhao.
Surgical masks like the one Mr Xi wore do not provide respiratory protection, but are simple barrier protectors.
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 conoravirus.
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.
‘TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE’
It doesn’t help that Mr Xi went nowhere near Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, for his mask stunt. The Beijing hospital he visited was over 1000 kilometres away from the locked down zone, where there has been over 1000 deaths.
The coronavirus death toll has risen to more than 1500 with a total of 66,000 confirmed cases, making an increase on yesterday’s whopping jump. Chinese authorities are facing intense scrutiny over the accuracy of figures in the outbreak, with many claiming the virus could become the “Chernobyl moment” for the leadership.
China’s Hubei province reported 2,420 new cases on Friday and 139 more deaths, in the second day after the region at the centre of the outbreak changed its method for counting infections.
On Thursday the coronavirus broke a tragic record with the deadly illness killing 242 people in China in a single day.
The 242 deaths from Hubei were more than double the announcement of the previous day.
Experts said there are no signs the virus is 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.
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.
The move comes as Mr 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.
– with AAP
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