China’s blaming the death of 6 healthcare workers and the infection of 1716 others from the Covid-19 coronavirus (also known as the Wuhan coronavirus) on the lack of personal protective equipment. The Straits Times, an English language newspaper based in Singapore, reports that “Chinese authorities have scrambled to deploy protective equipment to Wuhan's hospitals, where doctors and nurses have been overwhelmed by an ever-growing number of patients.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, notes that this is the first time that China has included numbers of healthcare workers infected in the data it has provided on the spread of the epidemic, reports the British newspaper the Guardian. “This is a critical piece of information because health workers are the glue that holds the health system and the outbreak response together,” says Ghebreyesus. “We need to know more about these figures, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick.”
Chinese officials want their citizens to don masks every time they go out in public and healthcare providers say that the masks should only be worn once. As it so happens, more than half of the medical masks in the world are made in China—manufactured at a rate of more than 7 billion a year—but officials there have put a halt on the exports.
Doctors and nurses in China are reportedly having to adopt makeshift measures to try to protect themselves in the face of dire shortages of protective gowns, gloves and masks.
“Some have used their own money to buy protective gear if they could find it for sale, or begged from friends,” the Guardianreports. “Others told of avoiding eating and drinking for long stretches because going to the toilet meant removing and discarding safety gowns that they would not be able to replace.”
Eyewitnesses told the New York Times about health professionals patching up damaged protective masks with tape and reusing goggles meant to be used once and thrown away. They are wrapping their shoes in plastic bags because they have no protective covers for them.
The Timesalso reports that the “strength—or vulnerability—of China’s medical workers could shape how well the Communist Party weathers its worst political crisis in years. Li Wenliang, a doctor, died from the coronavirus last week, after he had been punished by the police for warning friends of the outbreak. His death ignited fury in China, where he was lionized as a medical martyr to officials who put political control ahead of health.”