The director of a hospital in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has reportedly died of coronavirus, state media reported on Tuesday, as the number of deaths from COVID-19 neared 2,000.
Liu Zhiming, director of Wuhan’s Wuchang Hospital, died at 10.10 a.m. on Tuesday at the age of 50. He was the seventh reported healthcare worker to die from the virus since the epidemic first emerged in the city in December.
State broadcaster CCTV reported Liu’s demise citing a medical team sent to Wuhan from the Peking Union Medical College Hospital. It said he died after “every effort was made to revive him.”
Liu had been transferred to Wuhan Tongji Hospital on Friday after being sick for about three weeks.
Chinese health officials reported a total of 72,439 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in mainland China on Tuesday, with 1,870 deaths to date.
Wuhan resident Zhang Shunyao said the official figures likely didn’t tell the whole story, however.
“They are unwilling to let people know any negative news at all,” Zhang said. “Everything is based on the copy written by some 300 [central government approved] journalists, all using the same official phrasing.”
“That’s what they want us to see.”
Concern about local hospitals
A volunteer worker surnamed Zhou in the central province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, said medical personnel are far more likely to catch the coronavirus, given their position on the front line of the epidemic.
“We’re not just concerned about Wuhan, but also about the most basic township hospitals,” Zhou said. “How are the people getting infected with pneumonia in those places doing?”
“And then there’s all of the county hospitals and township clinics that lack protective clothing and masks,” she said. “It’s quite likely that the medical staff there are getting infected, and what will happen to them?”
Meanwhile, reports emerged in the southwestern region of Guangxi that an order of 4,000 highly sought-after N-95 face masks was found to bear the stamp “Relief Supplies,” prompting questions about corruption and the misuse of donated supplies that were intended for use in Wuhan.
The masks were reportedly issued after the lockdown of Wuhan on Jan. 23, and the 11 kilogram shipment exceeded allowed shipments for personal use of up to 3 kilograms, a report on social media said.
Wuhan volunteer worker Huang Wanhua said there must be someone with connections in high places behind the mask scandal.
“There must be some powerful vested interests operating behind the scenes,” Huang said. “This is not something ordinary people would be able to do.”
“The hospitals in Wuhan are short of these materials; they’ve been asking for help, and people send donations, and … then these supplies end up going somewhere else,” she said. “I think people will be very angry when they hear about it.”
Nationwide mask shortages
The report about the masks had garnered more than 600 million views by Tuesday night.
Internet commentator Fang Tao said the Hubei Red Cross is the officially designated recipient of disaster relief materials.
“If these masks are in fact disaster relief supplies, both the government and the Red Cross should be investigated,” Fang said. “There are mask shortages around the country right now.”
A resident of Wuhan surnamed Ma said the masks were likely part of a racket.
“At a time when the epidemic is raging [in Wuhan], unscrupulous people took these supplies for resale, to make a profit for themselves,” she said. “They should be severely punished.”
Tuesday’s toll of cases marked the first time the daily increase in cases has fallen below 2,000 since Jan. 30, while the 98 newly counted deaths is the first time the death toll has risen by less than 100 since Feb. 11, Reuters reported.
But World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the numbers “must be interpreted very cautiously.”
Outside China, there have been 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.
Reported by Qiao Long and Sing Man for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.