Wuhan coronavirus death toll rises to 56 as healthcare workers say medical supplies are running out

Updated 3:12 AM EST, Sun January 26, 2020
02:18 - Source: CNN
Reporter: Virus 'couldn't come at a worse time' for China
Beijing CNN —  

The death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus in China continues rising as authorities and health care workers struggle to contain the outbreak.

Fifty-six people have been killed by the novel coronavirus in China, health officials said on Saturday. Over 1,900 confirmed cases have been reported across the country.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that 237 patients are in critical condition.

Healthcare workers in the Chinese city of Wuhan say hospitals are running low on supplies as they treat an increasing number of patients.

The Chinese central government announced it would send more than 1,200 health workers — as well as 135 People’s Liberation Army medical personnel – to the city in an unprecedented effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Lunar New Year celebrations – the country’s most important holiday – have been greatly impacted in Beijing, Hong Kong and other major cities due to the virus. More than 60 million people are under partial lockdown in the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong.

While most confirmed cases of the virus are in China, at least 13 places outside mainland China, including France, Australia and the United States are reporting their first cases.

In Canada, health officials on Saturday announced the first “presumptive” positive case of coronavirus. The case is pending additional confirmation from the country’s national medical laboratory.

In Wuhan, ground zero for the virus, four healthcare workers – including doctors – have told CNN of the difficulties facing medical crews on the ground. They have asked to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions.

Through telephone conversations with CNN and posts on Chinese social media, they told of low hospital resources. In private groups online, those identified as hospital staff are coordinating with members of the public to import protective equipment as they treat an increasing number of infected patients.

“In terms of resources, the whole of Wuhan is lacking,” one Wuhan-based healthcare worker told CNN by phone. This person said they were looking for more protective clothing, protective goggles and masks.  

“It’s really like we’re going into battle stripped to the waist,” one healthcare worker added, using a Chinese idiom that equates to “going into battle without armor”.

 One hospital staff member claims healthcare workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work so as to avoid having to remove their HAZMAT suits, which they say are in short supply. A doctor on her Chinese social media Weibo page described similar accounts at another Wuhan hospital. 

“My family members are definitely worried about me, but I still have to work,” another doctor told. But she said that she is hopeful they will ultimately get the gear they need. “Our bosses, our hospital suppliers will definitely find a way to get these stocks to us,” she added.

It’s not clear if these accounts are anecdotal or whether there are widespread shortages across Wuhan.

Chinese state media has also shared posts from multiple Wuhan hospitals in which they ask for public donations of medical supplies. They report that one hospital staff member said the current supplies “are only able to sustain three or four days”. 

The Wuhan Health Commission has requisitioned over 10,000 beds from 24 hospitals to be used in the treatment of confirmed and suspected cases.  

On Friday, Wuhan officials acknowledged that local hospitals were struggling to accommodate people seeking medical attention and said measures were being put into place to alleviate the situation.

State media also reported that the city aims to build a 25,000 square meter (269,100 square foot) new facility within a week, increasing hospital capacity by 1,000 beds, and that several medical centers in Hubei province are asking for medical gear donations.