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Covid-19: Why Healthcare Staff Can’t Mask Their Anxiety

NEW DELHI: One of the most defining moments in the fight against Covid-19 in China was the death of Dr Li Wenliang, the doctor who made the presence of the infection public, due to the same virus. Last week, his colleague, Dr Mi Wenliang, also fell prey to novel coronavirus, underlining the risks faced by healthcare workers treating infected individuals.

The data shows 1,700 medical workers have been infected by Covid-19 in China and at least six have succumbed to it.

Though no healthcare worker has been affected in India, the anxiety level among the staff at hospitals such as Safdarjung and Ram Manohar Lohia, where coronavirus patients are being treated, is high.

Some of the doctors TOI spoke to said the lack of personal protective equipment such as masks was the trigger behind such anxieties. “Till Tuesday, there were few N95 masks for doctors at our hospital. We managed with surgical masks. When we complained to the administration, they arranged for some N95 masks and said more would be arranged in a phased manner because suppliers don’t have enough masks,” said Dr Joyutpal Biswas, general secretary of the Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) of Safdarjung Hospital, a nodal centre for Covid-19.

For now, doctors working in the casualty, respiratory medicine unit and other departments dealing with patients coming with complaints of fever, cough and breathing difficulty are getting N95 masks. “The positive, as well as suspected cases of Covid-19, are being admitted in a separate isolation ward. Doctors going there have full gear of personal protective equipment (PPE),” he added.

The RDA of AIIMS has also written to the director of the hospital for appropriate and adequate protective equipment without any interruption in their supply.

The World Health Organization recommends that healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, use surgical masks to cover their mouths and noses but the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has instructed them to wear N95 masks, which are thicker than the surgical masks and fit more tightly. In the US, too, masks shortage has been reported due to panic buying and hoarding.

A senior doctor at RML Hospital, another nodal centre for Covid-19, said they were a little more careful than usual these days. “If a patient comes with cough, we ask them to wear masks before examining. We are wearing masks, too,” she said, adding that the risk for healthcare workers was always high in case of any disease outbreak. “We don’t have a choice. But we also know how to deal with them.”

Dr Rommel Tickoo, senior consultant of internal medicine at Max Saket, said the chances of people getting seriously ill due to the virus were rare.-Times Of India