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Doctors in Wuhan not allowed to wear masks in early COVID-19 stages to prevent panic: official

Press Trust of India  |  Beijing 

A senior official from the ruling Communist Party of China has revealed that some of the hospitals in coronavirus epicentre Wuhan had prevented doctors from wearing face masks in initial stages to prevent panic among local people.

Ye Qing, a deputy director of the Statistics Bureau of Central China's Hubei province, has been recording the stories in Wuhan for 60 consecutive days since the city was locked down on January 23.

"During the early stage of the outbreak, officials from some hospitals did not allow doctors to wear face masks to avoid causing panic, but other hospitals handled the outbreak much better. Such comparison shows typical bureaucracy," Ye told state-run Global Times in first revelations by an official of what happened in Wuhan after the city began reporting COVID-19 cases since December last year.

While China's massive response to control the spread of the virus after January 23 lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei province came for global prise, the CPC's late response in curbing the virus early came for sharp criticism at home and abroad.

One official in Wuhan said earlier that five million residents of the city left for Chinese New Year holidays in China and abroad by the time government started lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei province.

Over 3,000 doctors and medical staff were infected with the virus while treating patients and 10 of them died. Most of the medical casualties were reported to have taken place early when the medics attended the patients without wearing proper medical gear, a medical expert from Wuhan recently told media.

Ye, who blamed the local bureaucracy for the delayed action, told Global Times that the CPC even held its local legislative sessions in the middle of January and he became aware of the virus when he spotted delegates from Hong Kong attending the meetings with masks.

The local governments of Hubei and Wuhan have been questioned for failing to pay enough attention to the outbreak in the early stage by still holding the local two sessions, which many believed delayed the province's response to the outbreak, the report said.

Ye, also a provincial political advisor who attended the provincial two sessions from January 11 to 15, said he didn't know how serious the epidemic situation was at that time.

During the two sessions, he saw some political advisors from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region wearing face masks.

"Since Hong Kong began to enter the warning period on January 4, they were very cautious and took a risk to come to Wuhan for the meeting. Like many others, I began to realise the seriousness of the epidemic when (China's top respiratory specialist) Zhong Nanshan came to Wuhan and declared that the virus could be transmitted from person to person," Ye said.

The early response to the epidemic was passive. By the end of December 2019, some medical departments and personnel had obtained information about the virus but they did not pay much attention to that, he said.

In Ye's Wuhan journals, he mentioned several times that bureaucratism can kill people as much as the virus, and even worse than the virus to some extent.

He stressed that the delayed action was also related to the process to understand a novel coronavirus. At the early stage, people made bureaucratic mistakes as they did not stick to scientism, and seek truth from facts.

If the communities and supermarkets could be locked down the same day as the city, Ye deemed the situation would have been much better.

"Zhong Nanshan said in an interview that if the lockdown was implemented five days earlier, it could have saved much of the prevention workload, and once the lockdown was implemented five days later, it increased the workload three times," he said, adding that a number of local officials have been punished.

Ye pointed out that the understanding for local residents on bureaucracy comes from several prominent incidents.

First, eight doctors who tried to warn other medics about COVID-19 but were reprimanded by local authorities were among those challenging bureaucracy, he said.

This included Dr Li Wenliang, the "whistle-blower" doctor in Wuhan who was reprimanded by police when he warned about the virus in social media on December 30.

A government investigation later punished two police officers and apologised to his family.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 24 2020. 21:00 IST
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