Coronavirus outbreak

Head of Wuhan hospital dies from infection

New cases in China fall below 2,000, but death toll soars past 1,860 with nearly 100 more cases

Patients exercising with medical staff inside the Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan on Monday.
Patients exercising with medical staff inside the Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan on Monday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING/SHANGHAI • A senior doctor at a hospital in the Chinese city of Wuhan died from the coronavirus, the latest fatality among medical workers as they rush to save tens of thousands of patients at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Dr Liu Zhiming, an expert in neurosurgery and the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, designated to solely treat coronavirus-infected patients, died yesterday morning, state media CCTV reported.

The fatality follows the death earlier this month of Dr Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor in Wuhan who was sanctioned for attempting to bring the virus to light.

The casualties highlight the risks for health workers on the front lines. More than 1,700 medical workers have been infected by the coronavirus, according to China's National Health Commission.

Most medical staff have been infected in Wuhan and the broader Hubei province, where the virus first emerged in December.

China has mobilised medical workers from across the country to help treat and care for patients, as the virus spread and overwhelmed local hospitals.

Over 25,000 medical workers, including top-line doctors and nurses from the country's best hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai, have been dispatched to Hubei as of last Friday.

On Monday, the number of new cases in China fell below 2,000 for the first time since last month, but the virus remains far from contained.

The death toll in China rose to 1,868 as of the end of Monday, up by 98 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said yesterday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned against a global over-reaction to the epidemic following panic buying, event cancellations and concerns about cruise ship travel.

The cruise ship industry has come into focus as hundreds of people became infected aboard a vessel off Japan.

The WHO, which has previously said travel restrictions were unnecessary, rejected the suggestion that all cruises should be halted.

"Measures should be taken proportional to the situation. Blanket measures may not help," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

 
 

The WHO has praised China for taking drastic measures to contain the virus.

The authorities have placed about 56 million people in hard-hit central Hubei under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country.

China's lockdown of cities and tough curbs on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus outside the epicentre.

The number of new daily infections in China had not been below 2,000 since Jan 30, while the daily death toll had not fallen below 100 since Feb 11.

Outside China, there are 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements.

The Chinese authorities say the stabilisation in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

Global health authorities had to stay on guard against a wider outbreak, said professor of international public health Jimmy Whitworth, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"We can hope that the reports of falling numbers of new cases in China do show that the epidemic has peaked in Hubei province, but it is still too early to be sure," he said.

Dr Tedros said Chinese data "appear to show a decline in new cases", but any apparent trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2020, with the headline 'Head of Wuhan hospital dies from infection'. Subscribe