A medical worker at a Covid-19 DNA testing booth takes a swab sample from a resident for Covid-19 DNA testing on August 22, 2022 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China. It was a summer that saw temperatures soar all over the world. Health workers in China have been particularly affected, suffering from relentless heat waves wrapped from head to toe in protective gear as they continue to test large numbers of people for Covid-19, amid a seemingly endless chain of outbreaks.
Vcg | China Optical Group | Getty Images
It was a summer that saw temperatures soar all over the world.
Health workers in China have been particularly affected, suffering from relentless heat waves wrapped from head to toe in protective gear as they continue to test large numbers of people for Covid-19, amid a seemingly endless chain of outbreaks.
The hazmat suit known locally as the “Big White”, which is responsible for enforcing China’s no-COVID policy for much of this year, has to work in temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
“The internal case is airtight,” Joshua Liu, a health worker from Shanghai told NBC News by phone last month. “Once we put on the suit, we can’t eat, drink and go to the toilet.”
Liu, who helped medical staff collect Covid test samples and record population information, said workers were “soaked in sweat” and “wrinkled fingers and palms” when removed.
“I can feel my skin breathing and sweating,” he said. “Every day when I finally get off work, the only thing I want to do is shower and sleep.”
The use of “Big White” was brought into sharp focus last month when a video of nurse Chunhua Xie lying on an emergency room bed with her limbs trembling went viral on Chinese social media, after it was posted by Nanchang county officials. in eastern Jiangxi Province.
A text in the video said Chunhua, wearing a protective suit, had been taking COVID-19 tests for several days at the Nanchang Provincial People’s Hospital when she had heat stroke and fainted. The video stated that the temperature was just over 100 degrees outside the facility at the time.
Although she later recovered, the video clip sparked a backlash online and officials later removed it.
But by then, it had 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.
‘Big White’ became a regular sight at Covid testing sites as health workers followed guidelines on protective clothing issued by China’s National Health Commission in January 2020, shortly after the initial Covid outbreak in Wuhan.
In Shanghai, Liu said he and his colleagues regularly wore body-covering clothing during the two-month Covid lockdown in Shanghai between March and May, when authorities pursued China’s tough “zero Covid” policy, closing schools, malls, stores and gyms, and halting bus, subway and ferry services in City.
During more local neighborhood closures in the following months, when residents were prevented from leaving and entering their apartment complexes without a permit, Liu said he and his colleagues helped with mass testing and contact tracing, while also helping to enforce strict quarantine requirements.
But with the arrival of the summer months, temperatures across China began to rise and mercury regularly reached 100 degrees in Shanghai. So far, temperatures have reached 104 degrees seven times at the mall’s 25 million, beating the record five days in 2013.
As a result, heat stroke has started to spread on Chinese social media, with people discussing symptoms that include headaches, vomiting and fever, or in more serious cases people can develop convulsions or comas.
For Janice Ho, a postdoctoral fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it was a “good thing” that people were searching for the term because it helped them “be more aware that heat actually has effects on death.”
With a core body temperature of 100 degrees, Hu, whose research focuses on heat and general health, added, “Your organs will start failing because it’s too hot to work and your body may stop regulating itself.” “That’s when it becomes fatal. It’s very dangerous that you end up dying from it.”
Several deaths have already been attributed to the extreme heat, including the death of a 56-year-old construction worker in Xi’an. The state-run China Youth Daily reported that he was taken to hospital with a body temperature of 109.4 degrees, and died of multiple organ failure and a severe stroke in July.
After Chunhua’s video was posted, the China National Medical Center for Infectious Diseases published an article that said wearing “protective clothing (commonly known as ‘Big White’)…can significantly increase the risk of heatstroke.” Instead, medical personnel were advised to wear lighter and more breathable surgical gowns.
But temperatures have continued to rise since then but on August 12 the China National Meteorological Center issued the first “high-temperature red alert”. This means that four or more counties recorded temperatures in excess of 100 degrees over a 48-hour period, and more than 10 counties are expected to reach between 100 and 108 degrees.
It remained in place for 12 days until August. 23.
For Hu, this showed that extreme heat had to be taken as seriously as other extreme weather.
“There are strict measures that have been taken to prevent people from being at risk from hurricanes or rainstorms, but we haven’t treated the heat in the same way,” she said.