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China’s covid workers suffer record temperatures

HONG KONG — It’s been a summer of record-setting heat around the world.

China’s health workers have been hit particularly hard, enduring unrelenting heatwaves draped head-to-toe in protective gear as they continue to test the massive population for Covid-19, amid a seemingly endless series of outbreaks.

Wearing hazmat suits known locally as the “Great White,” the army of workers, responsible for enforcing China’s zero-Covid policy, has been working for much of this year in temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

“The internal condition is airtight,” Joshua Liu, a Shanghai health worker, told NBC News by phone last month. “Once the suit is on, we can’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom.”

Workers are “drenched in sweat” and their “fingers and palms are wrinkled” when they are removed, said Liu, who helped medical staff collect Covid test samples and record residents’ information.

“I can feel my skin breathing and sweating,” he said. “Every day when I finally get off work, all I want to do is take a shower and fall asleep.”

Air conditioning units are installed as the summer heats up at a June Covid testing site in Beijing.Ng Han Guan / AP

Last month, the use of “Great White” came into sharp focus when a Video of nurse Chunhua Xie lying on a bed in the emergency room with trembling limbs went viral on Chinese social media, after officials in Nanchang county in the eastern province of Jiangxi posted it.

Wearing the protective suit, Chunhua had been conducting covid tests for several days at Nanchang County People’s Hospital, when he suffered from heat stroke and fainted, the caption above the video said. The temperature was just over 100 degrees outside the facility at the time, the video says.

Although it was later recovered, the video sparked a backlash online and was later removed by officials.

But by then it had already been widely shared and viewed by millions of people on Weibo, China’s largest microblogging site, and other social media channels, with some accusing the government of incompetence.

a regular view

The “Great White” has become a regular sight at Covid testing sites, as health workers followed instructions on protective clothing issued by China’s National Health Commission in January 2020, shortly after the initial outbreak of Covid in the city of Wuhan.

In Shanghai, Liu said he and his colleagues regularly wore body-covering suits during Shanghai’s two-month COVID-19 lockdown between March and May, when authorities, following China’s uncompromising “zero COVID” policy, closed schools. , malls, convenience stores and gyms. and halted bus, subway, and ferry services in the city.

Throughout more localized neighborhood lockdowns in the following months, when residents were barred from leaving and entering their homes without a permit, Liu said he and his co-workers helped conduct mass testing and contact tracing, while also helping to enforce strict quarantine requirements.

But as the summer months rolled around, temperatures across China began to rise, with the mercury regularly hitting 100 degrees in Shanghai. So far, temperatures of 104 degrees have been reached seven times in the mall of 25 million, surpassing the five-day record set in 2013.

As a result, heat stroke started trending on Chinese social media, as people discussed symptoms that include headaches, vomiting, and fever, or in more severe cases, people can have seizures or go into a coma.

For Janice Ho, a postdoctoral fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it was “a good thing” that people were looking up the term because it helped them “become more aware that heat actually has implications for death.”

By the time your body’s core temperature reaches 100 degrees, “your organs will start to fail because it’s too hot to function and your body may stop regulating itself,” added Ho, whose research focuses on heat and public health. . “That’s when it gets fatal. It’s very risky to end up dying because of it.”

Several deaths have already been attributed to the scorching heat, including that of a 56-year-old construction worker in the city of Xi’an. Admitted to the hospital with a body temperature of 109.4 degrees, he died of multiple organ failure and severe heat stroke in July, the state reported. Chinese Youth Diary informed.

After Chunhua’s video was released, China’s National Medical Center for Infectious Diseases published an article saying that wearing “protective garments (commonly known as the ‘Great White’)…could greatly increase the risk of suffer from heat stroke. Instead, medical workers were advised to wear lighter, more breathable surgical gowns.

However, temperatures have continued to rise since then and on August 12 the first The China National Meteorological Center issued a “high temperature red alert”. That meant four or more provinces saw temperatures over 100 degrees over a 48-hour period and more than 10 provinces were expected to reach between 100 and 108 degrees.

It remained in place for 12 days until August 23.

For Ho, this proved that extreme heat should be taken as seriously as any other extreme weather.

“Drastic measures have been taken to prevent people from being at risk from typhoons or storms, but we have not treated the heat in the same way,” he said.

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