China Official Fighting Coronavirus Outbreak Warns of Emergency Medical Supplies Shortage as Death Toll Climbs

Authorities in China are struggling to meet the demand for emergency medical supplies to deal with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The hardest-hit region of Hubei province requires 100,000 medical protective suits a day—more than three times the daily output produced across the whole country, according to the Shanghai Daily online publication Shine.

Vice minister of industry and information technology, Wang Jiangping, told a press conference that his government has had to resort to purchasing more than 220,000 medical protective suits from overseas.

Tapping into a 1 billion yuan (US$140 million) fund set up by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, purchasing agents are seeking suppliers in 14 countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia.

China coronavirus
A girl wears a protective mask in the Forbidden City, which was closed by authorities, during the Chinese New Year holiday on January 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to over 2000 in mainland China as health officials locked down the city of Wuhan earlier in the week. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

According to official figures reported by state-run publication China Daily citing the National Health Commission, there have been 2,744 confirmed coronavirus infections on the Chinese mainland as of Sunday midnight, including at least 80 deaths. The commission reported that another 3,806 suspected cases had also been reported.

The country's health minister Ma Xiaowei said that the ability of the virus to spread appeared to be strengthening as officials warn that the virus is infectious before symptoms show, which makes it harder to contain, the BBC reported.

However there has been more openness from Chinese officials compared with the SARS outbreak in 2003, which was the last deadly coronavirus outbreak to hit the country.

Sian Griffiths, emeritus professor at the Chinese university of Hong Kong told Newsweek this was because the "wake-up call" of SARS had spurred more investment in the country's clinical disease centers.

Griffiths, who was co-chair for the SARS enquiry for the Hong Kong government in 2003, said that focus for the Chinese authorities would be to protect the public.

"Because this is a new virus, we don't know how it's behaving, so we haven't been able to study it.

"I know from Sars that the virus mutated over time to become less virulent and so what you are looking for are changes in the virus that will make it less infectious— but at the moment we don't seem to have that picture. That's why all the emphasis is on the precautionary approach and on prevention.

"We don't understand when it goes into the population who is going to get infected, how they are going to get infected, what it's going to do, and that is really the phase we are in at the moment."

The incubation period ranges from between one and 14 days in humans and the virus, which causes severe acute respiratory infection, is believed to have originated in animals, although no cause has been officially identified.

A number of Chinese cities have imposed travel restrictions, while Wuhan in Hubei, the source of the outbreak, is in effective lockdown.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the location of current confirmed cases of novel coronavirus.

Coronavirus locations statista
Location of current confirmed cases of novel coronavirus. Statista

This article was updated to include an infographic.