More than 1700 medical workers have been infected and at least six have died fighting the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in China, health officials revealed for the first time on Friday.
At least 87 percent of the 1716 were working at hospitals in Wuhan, at the epicentre of the outbreak.
The rate of infection among doctors and nurses is increasing, a senior health official said, further confirming that the pathogen is highly contagious.
The epidemic has so far killed 1,381 people and infected nearly 64000 in China.
Weeks into the outbreak, the information was released Friday following the publication of medical research papers and unconfirmed media reports, which said the rate of infection among frontline medics was high and raising questions why the government wasn’t releasing the numbers.
The figures were disclosed by China’s national health commission’s (NHC) vice minister, Zeng Yixin at a press conference in Beijing.
“A total of six medical workers had died as a result of Covid-19 as of Tuesday, accounting for 0.4% of the total fatality rate; there are 1,716 infected medical workers in total, 3.8 percent of all infections,” Zeng said.
“At present, the duties of medical workers at the front are indeed extremely heavy; their working and resting circumstances are limited, the psychological pressures are great, and the risk of infection is high,” Zeng said.
More analysis needed to be done on how many of the medical workers were infected in hospitals, Zeng said. The figure for the number of medial workers who had died was as of Tuesday.
Among the six medics who have died so far was Li Wenliang, a doctor who had been reprimanded for issuing an early warning about the disease in December.
Li later contracted the disease and his death triggered a wave of public anguish this month and rare expressions of anger with the government.
The infection rate among medics and the deaths also bring to focus the conditions under which they are working – amid a massive shortage of medical supplies and protecting clothing.
Chinese authorities had allocated 25.94 billion yuan ($3.71 billion) by Thursday to improve working conditions of medical staff fighting the novel coronavirus, said a finance official Friday.
Ou Wenhan, assistant minister of finance, made the remarks at a press conference in Beijing, adding that the money was used to purchase medical equipment and protective materials and upgrade facilities in medical institutions.
“Each frontline medical and epidemic prevention worker would receive a subsidy of 300 yuan or 200 yuan per day according to different risk levels, which would be fully covered by the central fiscal,” said Ou was quoted as saying by the state media.
Among the earliest warn about infection among medics was a research paper published in the medical journal JAMA last week.
Conducted by Chinese doctors working at a Wuhan hospital on 138 patients, their research data revealed hospital-related transmissions of the virus were suspected in about 41% of the patients.
Specifically, 40 health care workers in the study and 17 patients who were already hospitalised for other reasons were presumed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the hospital.
It exposed the risks under which medics were working at hospitals in Wuhan.