BEIJING – Medical workers on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak in China are under intense physical and mental stress and hundreds have infected by the disease they are battling to contain.
Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, spoke at a press conference in Beijing on Friday about the pressure doctors are facing.
So far, 1,716 medical workers have contracted the virus out of 63,500 cases in China.
Six hospital staff have died during the outbreak, authorities said.
The plight of physicians working in perilous circumstances was highlighted recently by the death of Li Wenliang, one of the first people to warn of the coronavirus publicly in China, for which he was castigated by police.
Other doctors have died after working several days without rest.
Zeng urged hospitals to rotate staff and to distribute the shits “rationally” and suggested those who have worked overtime be rewarded with extra holiday leave when the outbreak subsides.
Although the production of protective face masks in China is running at near maximum output, several medical workers in the worst-hit areas like Wuhan City, the capital of Hubei province and the ground zero of the outbreak, have warned of a scarcity of equipment.
According to Ou Wenhan from the finance ministry, some 25.9 billion yuan ($3.716 million) has been spent on medical supplies and improving the working conditions for staff.
Ou also said the government would pay each “front line” medic, those who are directly exposed to the disease, an extra 200 to 300 yuan per day.
The Commission said 121 people had died from the disease on Thursday, bringing the running total of fatalities in China to 1,380.
The toll was revised down from 1,488, a number that was erroneously published after authorities changed the criteria for reporting cases – by including suspected cases as well as confirmed ones – which led them to accidentally count 108 deaths in Hubei province twice.
The Commission has not issued a comment offering details on the change in numbers.
It reported Friday that 8,030 serious cases had been recorded throughout the country, while 5,911 people had been discharged after overcoming the disease.
According to official data, more than 471,000 people who had been in close contact with the infected have been followed up, of which 38 percent are still under observation.
To date, all but three deaths – in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan – have occurred in mainland China and, although 30 countries have diagnosed COVID-19 cases, China accounts for about 99 percent of the infected.
The symptoms of the new coronavirus are in many cases similar to those of a cold, but may be accompanied by fever and fatigue, dry cough and dyspnea (shortness of breath).