China’s coronavirus-hit Hubei says medical supply tightness easing, shortages persist


BEIJING (Reuters) – The vice governor of China’s Hubei province, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in the country, said on Saturday the region’s supply of medical goods had improved but could still tighten if the epidemic worsens.

Speaking at an evening news conference in provincial capital Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, Cao Guangjing said Hubei’s major producers of protective gear – such as masks and protective suits – had all returned to work as of Feb. 7 but some smaller plants had still not fully resumed production.

“The shortage still exists,” but may end if there is a turning point in the crisis, Cao said. “If the numbers keep rising, the tightness will continue and may increase.”

The death toll in Hubei rose by 81 to 699 as of Friday, the province’s health commission said on Saturday, with a further 2,841 cases detected, taking the total in Hubei to 24,953. The province had reported 69 new deaths a day earlier.

For mainland China, the death toll stood at 723 on Saturday, the World Health Organization said.

Cao said the Hubei government would ensure supply of medical products for high-risk areas, organize purchases from around the country and worldwide, help local firms expand their production and ask for support from the central government in Beijing.

Earlier on Friday, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the country’s most senior official on the ground in Hubei, visited the newly opened Leishenshan hospital in Wuhan, one of several makeshift facilities set up for people infected with the coronavirus.

“Time is life,” state broadcaster CCTV cited Sun as saying, adding that she had called for the bed turnover rate to be speeded up.

Reporting by Min Zhang and Tom Daly; Editing by Frances Kerry