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Global Times

Epicenter of deadly coronavirus enters decisive moment in fight against the disease

Global Times

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/9 22:42:33

It has become a crucial moment in the fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) for Wuhan, Hubei Province, the epicenter. The virus so far caused over 30,000 infections nationwide and 811 deaths, as local authorities urged to bring everyone together who needs corresponding treatment while no delay would be tolerated.

The central government has dispatched 11,921 medical staff from different regions to support Wuhan, where the NCP originated and the number of infection cases accounted for about half of the total cases in Hubei with the highest death rate. Given an increasingly severe situation, the high-level expert team sent by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to oversee the epidemic prevention and control work urged local authorities to put anyone infected or suspected to be infected into quarantine, which should be conducted immediately.

The inflection point of the outbreak that some Chinese and foreign experts had forecast has not emerged yet, despite the number of new infection cases nationwide has been dropping for the third consecutive day on Sunday, according to media reports. However, the accumulated number of cases in Hubei and Wuhan has continued climbing since the city lockdown. The capital city of the province reported 14,982 cases as of Sunday, with the death rate hitting 4.06 percent.

There are in total 23,638 suspected cases within which 12,918 in collective quarantine. Some 123,827 people who had close contact with infected patients are under close watch in Hubei. However, the number of suspected cases and close contacts under observation in Wuhan are still unknown.

A pledge to fulfill

Jiang Chaoliang, secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the CPC, urged on Saturday to implement "wartime shift measures" of 24 hours a day to coordinate epidemic control work to deal with issues such as medical treatment, transport, and security and material supplies. More importantly, local authorities and communities must take four categories of people to treatment as soon as possible, including confirmed patients, suspected patients, people with fever and close contacts. All signs reflect that the battle against the deadly disease has entered a crucial phase. The top authorities also urged that no one would be left behind, and "four categories people" policy should be thoroughly carried out.

"This is like a military decree," a frontline doctor from Tongji Medical College at Huazhong University of Science & Technology, who preferred not to be named, told the Global Times on Sunday. As it's a crucial moment after more than two weeks of city lockdown, the top-down order requires Wuhan and Hubei to win this battle, he noted.

The battle against the NCP enters a "decisive period" as potential patients shall pass the incubation period since Wuhan lockdown from January 23, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

However, the epicenter has been facing mounting pressure as the numbers of infection continue surging and severe supply shortages in terms of medical resources heavily weigh on the overall treatment conditions in the city.

"Even though hospitals and beds increased in the city, those who have minor symptoms still cannot receive proper quarantine and treatment timely," Yang said. Their condition could worsen.

Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University officially took over Leishenshan hospital, the newly built facility to treat NCP patients in severe and critical condition, on Sunday, which is expected to offer 1,600 beds.

In total 28 designated hospitals in the city have expanded supply of beds to 8,895, with Huoshenshan and Leishenshan special hospitals created to offer 2,600 beds and three "Fang Cang" makeshift hospitals providing in total 4,250, as well as Party schools and city colleges renovated to supply 5,400, the total available hospital bed supply in the epicenter could reach 21,145, local media reported during the weekend, citing government officials.

Challenges remain

Wuhan has so far reported confirmed cases of infection without disclosing numbers of suspected cases and of close contacts while many suspected cases still need to be confirmed through either nucleic acid tests or computed tomography (CT) imaging tests, and some analysts and sources close to the matter predicted the actual number of infection would far exceed the current reported ones.

"Putting together everyone that needs proper treatment is not a difficult task, but how to treat patients effectively remains a question. Also, whether we could treat all those in critical condition in hospitals where they are all saturated, I highly doubt it," the doctor from Tongji said.

Local authorities have also implemented strict community grid management to mobilize a large number of residential community workers to carry out tasks such as check residents' body temperatures and register information household by household - the first time since the outbreak - to screen out all the people who need to be put under observation as soon as possible.

In some communities, dozens of community workers including social workers, volunteers and civil servants dispatched by other public institutions, have to serve over 7000 residents, reporting their health condition to decide whether some residents need to be put in collective quarantine. Some extra work also includes allocating daily necessities for some patients who cannot go out for shopping.

Some community workers have been highly stressed due to excessive work and facing growing risks of being infected while such unprecedented prevention and control work at grass-root level also brought challenges to workers who are not professional medical staff.

Hu Mingrong, community Party secretary of Jiangxinyuan in Hanyang district, received phone calls nonstop on Sunday, writing down information of residents she covered, despite having a numb throat, the Global Times reporter saw.

In each street and community, over 10,000 civil servants like her strived to make sure no one would be left out, which is also work that has never been done before in a city with 10 million people.

"If we could finish this task tonight, the most dangerous contagious channel could be cut off," a local observer on the matter told the Global Times, noting that the task included all confirmed patients in critical situation, suspected patients and patients with mild symptoms can be properly settled by midnight tonight.

Wang Xiaodong and Liu Caiyu contributed to this story

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