The mysterious coronavirus is now spreading more rapidly and little is still known about it, China‘s senior health officials said, as Beijing grapples with shortages of hazmat suits and protective masks.
“The virus’ transmission ability has become stronger,” National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said at a press briefing on Sunday.
Ma said that the previously-unknown coronavirus, which has already killed 56 people in China, is spreading faster, while the outbreak is entering a “more serious and complicated phase.”
The official noted that the government’s knowledge of the new virus remains limited and they remain puzzled about the risks posed by its mutations. Beijing will dispatch additional teams of medics to assist patients and study the virus, he added.
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention head Fu Gao said that there were no signs of clear mutation of the virus so far, but further surveillance is needed.
Local media has reported about the shortage of basic protective gear, like goggles and masks, in Wuhan, the capital of the central Hubei Province, which has been hit hardest by the outbreak. Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology Wang Jiangping said that Hubei needs about 100,000 protective medical suits per day but the factories across the country are making only 30,000 of them daily.
The authorities have ordered an increase in production and have diverted millions of masks, along with scores of hazmat suits, gloves and goggles, to Wuhan. The local office of the Red Cross has set up a 24-hour hotline for accepting donations of equipment. E-commerce giant Alibaba, laptop-maker Lenovo, and the world’s largest gaming company Tencent have all pledged to donate large sums of money to purchase medical supplies.
Wuhan and nine other major cities in Hubei were partially quarantined in an effort to contain the outbreak. Ma said that the week-long Lunar New Year vacation provides the best window for the “isolation and disinfection” of the area.