Chinese medics pay heavy price as death toll rises

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Taiwan: The coronavirus epidemic has taken a severe toll on Chinese health workers, infecting 1716 and killing six, with numbers expected to rise, Communist Party officials have said.

The stark admission by Zeng Yixin, China's National Health Commission vice-minister, comes amid repeated calls from hospitals for more protective equipment, particularly in Hubei province - the region at the centre of the epidemic.

Medical workers check on the conditions of patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan.

Medical workers check on the conditions of patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan.Credit:AP

The majority of infected medical staff - 1102 - work in Wuhan, where doctors have been forced to reuse the same equipment due to shortages in masks and bodysuits. Another 400 have been infected elsewhere in Hubei province.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the data was "a critical piece of information, because health workers are the glue that holds an outbreak response together".

But the WHO added that more details about the circumstances of infections were needed. "This outbreak expanded very quickly in an unsuspecting health system," said Dr Mike Ryan, the executive director of the health emergencies programme.

A woman wears a protective mask and face shield as she rides the subway in Beijing.

A woman wears a protective mask and face shield as she rides the subway in Beijing.Credit:Getty

"Our understanding is that cases among health workers peaked [at the end] of January and there has been a rapid fall-off in the last two weeks."

Lung disease experts last night warned there could be a link between smoking and higher death rates among Chinese men suffering from coronavirus. A study shows the case fatality rate for men in China is running three times higher than for women.

The latest figures follow an unprecedented public outpouring of grief after Li Wenliang, 34, died from the coronavirus. The doctor had been silenced by police after he posted on social media in December warning colleagues about a potentially dangerous new virus in a Wuhan hospital.

Since then more than 64,000 people in 28 countries worldwide have been infected with the disease, known as COVID-19. Roughly 1380 people have so far died, while Egypt reported the first case in Africa on Friday.

In Hong Kong, where 56 cases have been reported, discontent over the government's efforts to contain the disease is also growing. Residents have staged several small-scale protests at clinics treating mild COVID-19 symptoms.

Meanwhile off the coast of Japan, the strain on passengers aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is beginning to show. Some 219 people have tested positive in the biggest cluster of cases outside mainland China.

British pensioner David Abel, 74, who has been entertaining thousands with his upbeat daily Facebook broadcasts, issued an unusually emotional plea for Richard Branson, the entrepreneur, to help evacuate Britons by private jet to be quarantined at home.

"I wanted to be upbeat and positive but we've had enough," he said.

Separately, biotechnology company Novacyt said on Friday it would launch a certified test for the coronavirus next week, sending its London-listed shares to a record high. The company said last week that it had applied for US regulatory approval for the test.

Daily Telegraph, Reuters