Fears of new hotspots

A jump in infections in two Chinese cities flanking Wuhan, the epicentre of a rapidly-spreading virus epidemic, is fuelling fear that new hot spots are emerging in a province where strict transport curbs have already brought most activity to a halt.

China’s central province of Hubei has been the site of almost 60 per cent of infections, as well as more than 95 per cent of deaths, in an episode the World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency.

But the province’s two cities of Huanggang and Xiaogan, with combined populations of more than 12 million, have racked up more than 11 per cent of global infections and deaths.

As the virus in these cities spreads faster than in Wuhan itself and other sites outside a lockdown zone, the first dismissal of a senior health official in Hubei has spurred authorities to push for more effective measures.

“Medical supplies are in very short supply,” provincial governor Wang Xiaodong said. “Not only are there shortages in Wuhan and surrounding cities, but they are generally severely deficient in other parts of the province.”

Conditions in Huanggang, which had reported 573 infections and 12 deaths, are particularly severe, he warned in remarks on Wednesday, urging every effort to keep the city from becoming a second Wuhan.

Tang Zhihong, the head of Huanggang’s health commission, was dismissed on Thursday after state television broadcast images that showed her unable to respond to questions about the number of hospital beds and patients in the city.

Huanggang had insufficient screening procedures for suspected cases, slow testing processes and lack of testing personnel, inspectors from China’s central government has found.

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