News World Doctors overwhelmed, beg for supplies as virus panic slams hospitals
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Doctors overwhelmed, beg for supplies as virus panic slams hospitals

A security official stands guard as an ambulance arrives at the Infectious Disease Centre of Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong. Photo: Getty
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China is quickly building a 1000-bed hospital to handle a deadly virus outbreak as panicked patients flood the health system, overwhelming doctors who are running out of basic supplies.

At least eight hospitals in the virus epicentre, Wuhan, issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online.

It comes as France confirmed Europe’s first two cases, one of whom passed through Wuhan before travelling to France.

The US announced its second case of the coronavirus as thousands of people were screened at airports and the UK said it was still free of the respiratory illness but was trying to track down thousands of recent arrivals.

Australia has so far tested 11 people but has no confirmed cases.

The killer virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Nepal.

Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lining up for checks in busy hospitals. Some users on online platform Weibo said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away because hospitals were full.

One unverified Twitter video shows “bodies” lined the hospital floor as patients cram hospital corridors.

Dozens of diggers and bulldozers are currently working around the clock to build the new hospital in the city of Wuhan, which is ground zero of the outbreak.

The prefabricated structure is due for completion on February 3.

Dozens of excavators at the construction site of a planned new hospital in Wuhan. Photo: Getty

Unprecedented travel restrictions affecting nearly 33 million people in several cities have been in force as Chinese return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year which starts Saturday.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were cancelled, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and a slew of other tourist attractions have been closed indefinitely.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

France and US victims

France has confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus, with one patient being hospitalised in Paris and the other in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

A 48-year-old victim returned two days ago from a trip to China which included a stop in Wuhan.

There was no information yet on the second case in Paris.

A Chicago woman became the second US patient diagnosed with the dangerous new virus from China, health officials announced.

The woman in her 60s returned from China on January 13 without showing any signs of illness, but a few days later she called her doctor to report feeling sick.

The patient is doing well and remains hospitalised “primarily for infection control,” said Dr Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner.

Earlier this week, a man in Washington state became the first US patient, also diagnosed after returning from a trip to Wuhan.

The US and France both said they expected more confirmed cases in coming days.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels. The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

-with AAP