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China’s Epidemic Prevention Staff Getting Heatstroke From Sweltering Temperatures as Casualties Rise

With extreme weather across much of the country exceeding 100° F, authorities caution against full-body PPE in order to prevent life-threatening heatstroke
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: July 18, 2022
Beijing Moves To Contain Fresh Cases Of COVID-19
A Chinese member of Blue Sky Rescue wears a protective mask as he takes a break in the heat while fumigating to prevent COVID-19 at a residential compound on June 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Since July, scorching temperatures and heat waves have been hitting many places in mainland China — with over 85 cities and 18 provinces logging temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). 

The heat waves have been so intense in certain parts of the country that a growing number of patients have been admitted to hospitals suffering from life-threatening heatstroke symptoms, and some have reportedly died. 

Authorities tasked with the regime’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 are battling the virus in more than 20 provinces — with over 9,000 nucleic acid testing sites being rolled out in most major cities. While administering the mass testing, COVID staff are often required to wear full-body personal protection equipment (PPE). 

MORE ON EXTREME WEATHER IN CHINA:

Zhang Wenhong, Director and Secretary of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Huashan Hospital, announced on July 16 that there was no need for testing personnel to wear full PPE while administering COVID testing outdoors. Zhang added that testing staff should “wear face shields or N95 masks” when in close contact with the general population, but are no longer required to wear airtight protective clothing.

Anti-epidemic personnel getting heatstroke from wearing airtight PPE

As the rest of the world learns to coexist with the virus, and most countries have either fully resumed travel, or are allowing visitors under certain requirements, Chinese authorities have doubled down on epidemic prevention and control measures.

Recently, a growing number of accounts have surfaced on social media showing COVID testing staff apparently suffering from heatstroke.

(Video: via Twitter)

In a video widely circulated on the internet, two epidemic control personnel wearing full PPE are seen sitting helplessly on a bench under the shade of a tree. A woman nearby can be heard saying, “Look at them, they are both suffering from heatstroke!” 

In another video, dated July 14, a doctor in the emergency department of Nanchang County Hospital can be seen helping a woman who was lying on a stretcher and convulsing uncontrollably. 

(Video: via Twitter)

Another tweet from July 15 shows a social media conversation with a person who had been volunteering as an epidemic control worker. The volunteer, who got heatstroke and was admitted to the hospital for treatment, described shock at witnessing the death of four other patients brought into the hospital room. 

A screenshot of the chat describing “potential mass heatstroke among ‘big white’ [PPE-wearing] volunteer workers in Hangzhou” reads:

“It feels so good to be alive. After entering the emergency room, I was woken up by crying after being in a coma for 15 minutes. The doctor came and told me that two others in my room had succumbed to their heatstroke. Hearing that just about gave me a heart attack. From 5:30 to 10:30, four other patients entered my room, and all of them went to the afterlife. I was so scared that I broke out in cold sweats. Damn, my heart is still racing.” 

The worker explained how after volunteering in an makeshift testing site located in an airfield for several hours in the blaring heat resulted in him/her going into a coma. 

“I got a serious case of heatstroke, it really sucked, I couldn’t breathe well, my whole body was twitching, and then my stomach swelled up terribly.”

One concerned netizen commented on the volunteer’s post, saying, “Pay attention to your body, the PPE is not breathable, you must always pay attention. It is best to wear as little as you can.” To which the worker replied, “Because of my work, I had no choice but to wear it.”

Growing number of hospitalizations 

According to a report by state-run outlet Shanxi Evening News, three patients admitted to hospitals in Nanchong, Sichuan Province, on July 15 have since died of organ failure resulting from heatstroke.

ER doctors at Nanchong Central Hospital said that the first patient, a 70-year-old man, was first brought into the hospital at 9 p.m. on July 9. The patient was brought in after fainting from heatstroke while doing farm work, and reportedly never regained consciousness. The attending physician added that the man was also suffering from an underlying illness at the time of his death. 

Residents are seen fanning themselves to try and keep cool in Chongqing, China on July 10, 2006. This region, located in the country’s southwest, is known as one of the “Three Furnaces” for its sweltering summer weather. (Image: China Photos via Getty Images)

On July 14, doctors there treated another 70-year-old patient admitted for heatstroke. On the morning of the 14th, doctors said the patient was unresponsive, and began to suffer from cardiac arrest. One of the doctors said, “Since July 9, our hospital has received more than 10 cases of heatstroke patients.”

In Shanghai, a 70-year-old woman was also seen suffering from impaired consciousness and a high fever after she reportedly took a nap inside her home where temperatures had reached over 42.5°C (108.5°F). It remains unclear whether the woman recovered or not. 

According to the Affiliated Hospital of Sichuan’s Medical College, doctors there treated two patients suffering from heatstroke — both of whom were outdoor workers. Hospital staff said that after being transferred to the facility’s ICU wing on July 13, one of the patients then went into cardiac arrest, and died while undergoing treatment. 

An emergency doctor at Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital (​邵逸夫医院) from Zhejiang’s University School of Medicine added that, “More than 10 patients with heatstroke, including one severe heatstroke patient, have been admitted to the emergency department in the past two days.” 

Heatstroke leading to multiple organ failure

Many hospitals in Zhejiang Province, directly south of Shanghai on the eastern coast, have also reported an influx of heatstroke patients — with the number of fatalities growing. 

Sichuan and the neighboring megacity of Chongqing, located in southwestern China, have seen extremely hot temperatures — with the country’s International Climate Center claiming roof and ground temperatures there had reached an alarming 50 to 60° C (122° F – 132° F) beginning in July.

According to a report by the Changsha, Hunan Province-based Xiaosa Morning News, an ER doctor working at Lishui Central Hospital in Zhejiang described how a 49-year-old male patient who was brought in after suddenly collapsing in a workshop died from multiple organ failure. 

The doctor said that by the time the patient was admitted, his internal body temperature had reached 40.7° C (104.5° F), and his internal organs were essentially being boiled alive. “The patient died of multiple organ failure due to disseminated intravascular coagulation,” the physician explained.

According to state-run “Shaanxi Legal Network,” on July 5, a 55-year-old construction worker in Xi’an city, Shaanxi Province fell ill on his way home from work. The man’s daughter said that her father was the family’s main financial supporter, and was working “many odd jobs in order to help pay for her younger brother’s college tuition.” The current status of that patient remains unknown. 

As temperatures continue to climb, authorities in China have warned residents to check for symptoms of heatstroke and go to a hospital if they experience the following: nausea, feeling disoriented or confused, not sweating despite feeling hot, loss of consciousness, and a tingling or burning sensation in the skin. If left untreated, heatstroke has a high mortality rate and can quickly attack the central nervous system leading to multiple organ failure or long-term cardiovascular problems. 

Vision Times reporter Li Muzi contributed to this report.