China says it 'urgently needs' protective medical equipment
As death toll from coronavirus outbreak crosses 360, country's population and front-line medical personnel face shortages in masks and equipment
BEIJING: China said yesterday it "urgently needs" protective medical equipment as the death toll in the country from a highly contagious coronavirus went past 360 yesterday, with more than 17,000 infections.
The death toll surpassed the number of fatalities in China from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis two decades ago.
The figure of 57 new deaths confirmed yesterday was the single biggest increase in the toll since the virus was detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped from animals at a market into humans.
Fears of the virus have spurred people in the densely-populated country of 1.4 billion to stock up on single-use surgical masks, while front-line medical personnel at the centre of the outbreak have reported equipment shortages.
"What China urgently needs at present are medical masks, protective suits, and safety goggles," foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a press briefing.
At full capacity, China's factories are able to produce only around 20 million masks a day, according to the ministry of industry.
The foreign ministry said countries such as South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Hungary have donated medical supplies.
Mr Tian Yulong of the industry ministry said earlier yesterday that authorities were taking steps to bring in masks from Europe, Japan and the US, adding that supply and demand in China remained in "tight equilibrium" as factories returned to production after the Chinese New Year lull.
He said they were now operating at "between 60 and 70 percent capacity".
In addition to Hubei, the province of more than 50 million people at the centre of the outbreak, several other provinces and cities across China have made it compulsory to wear masks in public as virus fears have grown.
These include Guangdong - China's most populous province - Sichuan, Jiangxi, Liaoning and the city of Nanjing, with a combined population of more than 300 million.
The virus has since spread to more than 24 countries, despite many governments imposing unprecedented travel bans on people coming from China.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the crisis a global health emergency.
But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday there was no need for measures that "unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade".
"We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent," he said. - AFP, REUTERS