COVID-19: Global health workers ‘dangerously ill-equipped’ to fight outbreak

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Manufacturers need to “urgently increase” their production of critical supplies like gowns and gloves as health-care workers around the world try to treat a growing number of patients infected with COVID-19, the World Health Organization’s top official says.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, said Tuesday that shortages are leaving health workers “dangerously ill-equipped” to care for patients with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The Geneva-based health agency has been shipping personal protective equipment to countries who need it, Tedros said, but “supplies are rapidly depleting.” Tedros noted that supplies can take months to deliver and urged governments to develop incentives aimed at getting manufacturers to ramp up production of critical medical gear.

WHO reported 90,893 cases globally, with 3,119 deaths. Most of those cases and deaths were reported in China, but there are an increasing number of countries reporting cases of COVID-19. 

Tedros said 12 countries have recently reported their first cases.

“The actions these newly affected countries take today will be the difference between a handful of cases and a larger cluster,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and other G7 finance ministers issued a joint statement after a conference call, saying they are closely following the impact the virus is having on economies and markets.

“Alongside strengthening efforts to expand health services, G7 finance ministers are ready to take actions, including fiscal measures where appropriate, to aid in the response to the virus and support the economy during this phase,” the joint statement said.

Read on for a sense of what’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada, the United States and some of the hardest-hit communities around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

Canada has reported 30 cases of COVID-19 — 20 in Ontario, nine in British Columbia and one in Quebec.

Ontario announced two more cases on Tuesday. Health officials say those patients are in self isolation. One can be linked to travel to Egypt, the other to travel to Iran.

In B.C., health officials have confirmed the province’s ninth case is a man in his 50s who recently returned from Iran.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, says the man lives in the Fraser Health district and is now in self-isolation at home. 

WATCH | Trudeau on COVID-19 and help for the provinces:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alludes to the possibility of helping provinces with the costs of preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak. 0:33

On Monday, health officials announced that travellers landing in Canada from Iran would be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the measure, which is similar to one already in place for travellers coming from Hubei, China, was put in place after new cases here were linked back to travel in Iran.

There are no plans for travel bans, Tam said.

“Viruses know no borders, and we have to balance our public health measures knowing that they are never completely perfect.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which is assessing risk as the outbreak develops, said the risk in Canada from COVID-19 is low.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

Washington state reported additional coronavirus deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to nine.

All of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States so far have been in the Seattle area.

On its website, the state Department of Health reported eight deaths in King County and one in Snohomish County.

The state is now reporting 27 confirmed cases.

WATCH | Officials scramble to contain coronavirus in Seattle area:

Officials are scrambling to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle, where the cases have no known link to travel. 2:02

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence COVID-19 may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected. If true, that could mean that there are hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.

The number of cases in the U.S. — including travellers who are believed to have contracted COVID-19 abroad and those who were repatriated from areas like Wuhan, China — is over 100.

Here’s what’s happening in South Korea

South Korean soldiers in protective gear sanitize shacks at Guryong village in Seoul on Tuesday. President Moon Jae-in has ordered additional hospital beds and more face masks to be made available as the number of cases rose by 600 in the worst epidemic of any nation outside China. (Heo Ran/Reuters)

In South Korea, the number of cases continues to rise. On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in ordered additional hospital beds and more face masks to be made available as the number of cases rose by 600 in the worst epidemic of any nation outside China.

He apologized for shortages of face masks and promised support for virus-hit small businesses in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, which has now reported 5,186 cases and 28 deaths.

“The entire country has entered war against the infectious disease as the crisis in Daegu and Gyeongbuk province has reached the highest point,” he told a cabinet meeting, referring to the two hardest-hit parts of the country.

The virus, which originated in China late last year, began to spread rapidly in South Korea after it entered the congregation of a fringe Christian group in Daegu city, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Here’s what’s happening in Japan

Students sit apart from each other as they do self-study at an elementary school that was opened for children who cannot stay at home alone while their parents are at work, in Nagoya, central Japan, on Tuesday. (Kyodo/Reuters )

In Japan, it’s not just schools that closed as the government tries to stop the spread of COVID-19. According to public broadcaster NHK, a major mall operator is shortening hours, and a gym chain is shuttering almost all of its outlets.

In Japan, questions continued to build about how the virus might affect the Olympics.

The country’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said Tuesday the country was “making the utmost effort” to proceed with the games’ planned opening on July 24 in Tokyo. But she told parliament the country’s contract with the International Olympic Committee only specifies that the games be held during the year 2020, and that they could be delayed to later in the year if necessary.

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

Italian officials said the number of deaths of coronavirus patients in Italy has risen sharply in a 24-hour period to 79 overall. They say nearly all the deaths have occurred in elderly people or patients with serious chronic health problems, such as kidney failure, heart disease or cancer.

Officials said Tuesday that the number of virus cases in Italy rose by nearly 500 to 2,502. Most of the cases and deaths have occurred in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy.

A bicycle parked in Vittorio Veneto square Monday in Turin, Italy. (Massimo Pinca/Reuters)

France on Tuesday reported a total of 204 cases, up 13 from the previous day, and a total of four deaths. The latest was a 92-year-old man in Brittany, where there has been a cluster of COVID-19 illnesses, and thousands of children are being kept home from school.

The news of the latest death came as The Associated Press reported that France’s president said the government is requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks.

Earlier, France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said around 120 schools have been ordered to close, most in Brittany and the Oise region north of Paris, which have been hit hard by COVID-19. He told LCI television it was probable that more schools could close and confirmed that he had ordered a freeze on all school trips. But he cautioned against rushing to a general shutdown of the education system.

“It wouldn’t make sense to confine everyone at home, to paralyze the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine on Tuesday reported its first confirmed case of the new virus in a man who had recently arrived from Italy.

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

Iran’s supreme leader put the Islamic Republic on war footing Tuesday against the coronavirus by ordering its armed forces to assist health officials in combating the outbreak — the deadliest outside of China — that authorities say has killed 77 people.

“Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

WATCH | Iran struggling with medical equipment shortages, says WHO:

The World Health Organization says Iran lacks supplies such as ventilators and respirators needed to treat patients with coronavirus. 1:01

After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities said Tuesday they had plans to potentially mobilize 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus.

There are now over 2,530 cases of the coronavirus across the Mideast. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic.

“Things tend to look worse before they get better,” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO emergency program director, said of the recent increase in cases in Iran, which have come from several cities.

Here’s what’s happening in mainland China and Hong Kong

A worker wears protective clothing as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus as she watches over customers in a supermarket in Beijing on Tuesday. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 2,943 as of the end of Monday, up by 31 from the previous day.

Mainland China had 125 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Monday, the National Health Commission said Tuesday, down from 202 cases a day earlier and the lowest since the authority started publishing nationwide data in January.

Excluding cases in Hubei province, where the outbreak first started, there were 11 new cases in mainland China on Monday. Seven of the new cases were imported, involving Chinese nationals who had travelled from Italy to Qingtian county. None of them had been to Hubei province or its capital Wuhan, the Qingtian government said.

All travellers entering Beijing from the virus hotspots of South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy will have to be quarantined for 14 days, the deputy secretary general of the Beijing Municipal Government, Chen Bei, said Tuesday.

Shanghai earlier said it would also compel visitors who had recently travelled to countries with “relatively serious virus conditions” to submit to 14 days of isolation, but it did not name the countries.

Dandong, the northern Chinese city that borders North Korea, said it would test all visitors who arrived in the city from Feb. 12. Those who arrived from Feb. 28 will be tested at designated hotels where they can undergo quarantine if infected.

People wear masks as they ride vehicles during evening rush hour, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Beijing China on Tuesday. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

“We are trying to distance ourselves from the virus, but what cannot be broken is the flesh and blood relationships between overseas Chinese and their families in their hometowns,” said the government of Qingtian county in the southeastern Zhejiang province.

Hong Kong has arranged four charter flights to bring back 533 of its residents from Hubei, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, about a month after countries around the world began evacuating their citizens.

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