Air raid sirens sounded across China and flags flew at half staff in a tribute Saturday to victims of the coronavirus pandemic including the health care “martyrs” who have died while fighting to save others. Elsewhere, 15 medics in Egypt‘s main cancer hospital tested positive for the virus, underlining the risks faced by those on the front lines of the outbreak.
As the number of people infected has grown to more than 1.1 million worldwide, health care systems are straining under the surge of patients and a paucity of medical equipment like ventilators as well as protective masks and gloves, giving rise to growing concerns about the exposure of hospital personnel.
Italy and Spain, the two worst-hit countries in Europe with combined deaths of more than 25,000 and nearly a quarter-million infections, have reported a high percentage of infections among their health care workers.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced late Friday he would prevent the export of N95 protective masks and surgical gloves in a move he said was necessary to ensure they are available in the U.S. _ but the prime minister of neighbouring Canada suggested it was counterproductive, noting cross-border aid goes well beyond supplies.
“I think of the thousands of nurses who cross the bridge in Windsor to work in the Detroit medical system every day,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “These are things Americans rely on.”
The number of people infected in the U.S. has now exceeded a quarter-million, with the death toll climbing past 7,000. New York state alone accounts for more than 2,900 dead, an increase of over 560 in just one day. Most of the dead are in New York City, where hospitals are swamped with patients.
In China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in December, the country has cautiously lifted restrictions amid dropping numbers of infections. On Saturday it reported just one new confirmed case in the epicenter of Wuhan and 18 others among people arriving from abroad. There were four new deaths for an official total of 3,326.
In the nationwide tribute to the victims, the government singled out the more than 3,000 health care workers who contracted COVID-19 and the 14 reported to have died from the disease. Among them was doctor Li Wenliang, who was threatened with punishment by police after publicizing news of the outbreak but has since been listed among the national “martyrs.”
As the outbreak spreads in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, the news that three doctors and 12 nurses tested positive for the virus at the National Cancer Institute raised fears of what the virus might do to the country’s health care system, with an eye on what has happened elsewhere.
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The institute was partly closed for three days to be sterilized, with only the emergency ward remaining open.
Egypt has reported around 1,000 confirmed cases and 66 fatalities from the global pandemic. Authorities have closed schools and mosques, banned public gatherings and imposed a nighttime curfew to prevent the virus from spreading among the population of 100 million, a fifth of whom live in the densely populated capital, Cairo.