By Zhuang Pinghui – South China Morning Post
Chinese hospitals are running out of protective gear to handle the deadly coronavirus outbreak and many have appealed to the public for donations.
With some factories shut down for the Lunar New Year break, hospitals ― including in major cities like Beijing and Guangzhou ― have put out the call for more supplies, even as authorities coordinate across the country to increase production to cope with the epidemic.
More than 2,800 cases of the pneumonia-like virus have been confirmed on mainland China, with more than 80 deaths, since the outbreak began in Wuhan in December.
In the capital on Monday, Beijing Anzhen Hospital, which specialises in cardiology, appealed to the public for protective supplies to “protect frontline medical personnel”. Beijing had reported 72 confirmed cases of the disease as of Sunday.
The hospital said in a statement it needed supplies to help with prevention and control of the virus, including surgical masks, medical protective masks, gowns and goggles, disinfectant wipes and chlorine.
A day earlier, the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, which is also in Beijing, appealed for donations of protective gowns and masks for frontline medical staff because of “the large number of patients visiting every day, and the large number of medical staff at the hospital”.
Similar calls have been made over the past few days by hospitals in Chongqing, Chengdu in Sichuan province, Lanzhou in Gansu, Guilin in Guangxi, and in Shenzhen and Guangzhou ― including by the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, where Sars expert Zhong Nanshan works.
Zhong was a pivotal figure in China’s response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak 17 years ago and is now heading an expert team to deal with the newly identified virus.
A staff member of the Guangzhou hospital told Pear Video that it had been designated to treat coronavirus patients, especially severe cases, in Guangdong province.
“Many people have contacted us but the problem is, we can’t find the supplies,” the employee, who was not named, told the news website. “Many factories aren’t running over the Chinese New Year holiday and we have a serious shortage of protective suits.”
Hospitals in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and other cities in Hubei province asked for help from the central government last week ― seeking medical supplies including some 40 million medical masks, 5 million protective suits and more infrared thermometers.
The government has since been coordinating efforts to ramp up production of the items.
As a result, a number of mask producers in Shandong, Henan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces had cancelled workers’ leave to continue production over the Lunar New Year period, Wang Jiangping, a vice-minister of industry and information technology, said on Sunday.
One big producer with several factories across China, Shenzhen-based Winner Medical, has made more than 100 million masks over the five weeks from December 20 to January 26, with three factories dedicated to producing them, according to a statement on Weibo.
But Wang on Sunday said production of protective supplies across China was at about 40 per cent of overall capacity, and there was an acute shortage of protective suits.
He said there were 40 companies in China that made the suits, and their combined daily output was about 30,000. However, Hubei province alone needed about 100,000 protective suits every day, and the ministry had contacted overseas suppliers to cover the shortfall.
Wang said the ministry was also looking into using protective suits made for export ― of which 50,000 are made per day, but to different specifications than for the domestic market.