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China begins withdrawal of medical staff from Wuhan after virus-hit city records just one new case

BEIJING/WUHAN: China on Tuesday began withdrawal of thousands of doctors and medical staff from Wuhan after the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak reported just one confirmed case.

With mixed feelings of containing the dreaded COVID-19 but sad over deaths of thousands of people, the first batch of medical assistance teams started leaving Hubei province early on Tuesday as the epidemic outbreak in the hard-hit province has been subdued, official media reported.

Over 3,600 medical staffers belonging to 41 medical teams from across China have assisted 14 temporary hospitals and seven designated hospitals in Wuhan, the provincial capital and the epicentre of the outbreak, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Wuhan reported just one confirmed case of the COVID-19 and 12 deaths on Monday, the provincial health commission said on Tuesday.

Wuhan, along with the entire Hubei province with over 50 million people, was kept under total lockdown since January 23 banning all movement of transportation after the deadly virus first emerged in the city in December.

The latest report brought the total number of confirmed cases in the Hubei province to 67,799. The overall confirmed cases on the mainland had reached 80,881 by the end of Monday. This includes 3,226 people who died of the disease, 8,976 patients who were still being treated, 68,679 others discharged after recovery.

China deployed over 42,000 medical workers from across the country, including from the military, in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan when the virus spread like wildfire infecting thousands of people.

At about 7:30 am on Tuesday the national emergency medical rescue team from Shaanxi province departed by bus. Police officers at the expressway toll-gate saluted while watching their vehicles leave. Xinhua reported that some of the team members shed tears behind their masks.

The Shaanxi team consists of 43 experienced doctors and nurses from departments including emergency treatment, gynaecology and obstetrics, paediatrics and neurology as well as psychology under the Shaanxi Provincial People’s Hospital.

“We arrived in Wuhan on February 4 and worked in two temporary hospitals over the past 40 days. Together with colleagues from Wuhan and Henan province, we managed 988 beds and treated 1,235 patients,” said Ma Fuchun, head of the team.

“Thankfully, we achieved zero patient deaths and zero infection of medics during our stay here. Our presence here not only reduced the burdens of local medical workers but, more importantly, brought confidence to disease-ridden Wuhan residents. It was also a good opportunity to hone our team,” he said.

While the Shaanxi team was heading north, 42 medics from Hunan province set out on the journey home down south.

“There were so many unforgettable moments during my 43 days here. I will always remember the days the doctors and patients stuck together to keep each other warm and fight the epidemic,” said Wen Chuan, a medical staffer.

So far planes carrying more than 3,000 members of 21 medical teams left for the cities of Tianjin, Haikou, Yinchuan, Urumqi, among others. Wuhan’s Tianhe International Airport which was closed since January 23 and opened only for foreigners evacuations came alive with Chinese medical teams leaving in batches.

A ground crew member presented a special “VVIP boarding pass” to each passenger. The souvenir pass said the “heroes” would board at the gate “Arch of Triumph,” departing Wuhan on the “victory day against the epidemic.”

After measuring each passenger’s forehead temperature, the staffer said, “Thank you all. Have a safe journey.” Sun Yunfei, an emergency department nurse from north China’s Tianjin Municipality, said he is excited to meet his son who is now eight months old.

“He learned to grab, sit and even stand with support when I was away from home. I want to spend more time and rebuild my bond with him. I hope the patients being treated in Wuhan will recover soon and reunite with their family,” Sun said.

35-year-old Xie Mingfang from Hebei province, served at a temporary hospital for patients with mild symptoms. “I’d like to return with my son soon after the epidemic is over to let him see the place I worked,” she said. She will be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival before she can meet her eight-year-old son.

“Right now, what I want most is to watch a movie on my phone, because I barely had enough time to finish one,” she said with a smile.

On Tuesday, the Deputy Director and Associate Chief Physician of the Department of infectious diseases of Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Cao Wei, said the deadly virus which brought China to a grinding halt for about three months has “almost seen its end”.

“We will still wait for another month to see and make the final judgement,” said Cao, who was in Wuhan directing mammoth medical operations to fight the disease.

Zhang Xinmin, director of the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development, said China has completed the clinical research of Favipiravir – an antiviral drug that has shown good clinical efficacy against COVID-19.

Favipiravir, the influenza drug which was approved for clinical use in Japan in 2014, has shown no obvious adverse reactions in the clinical trial, Zhang said.

The announcement by Zhang, whose centre is attached to the Ministry of Science and Technology, is regarded as significant as there is no standardised effective cure yet to treat the COVID-19 patients, though China and some other countries used drugs to treat HIV as well as Ebola virus patients.