BEIJING: Two Chinese nurses on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan made an unusual global appeal for help in a now-withdrawn letter published by a prestigious British medical journal.
"We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle," wrote Zeng Yingchun and Zhen Yan in the appeal published on Feb 24 on the website of the Lancet journal.
The nurses, who work at hospitals in southern Guangdong province, said they had gone to Wuhan on Jan 24 to work in the isolation wards.
"The conditions and environment here in Wuhan are more difficult and extreme than we could ever have imagined," they wrote.
China has strictly controlled the flow of information about the virus, cracking down on criticism of authorities' handling of the outbreak and scrubbing critical posts on domestic social media.
DXY, a popular Chinese online platform for healthcare information, posted an article about the Lancet letter on Wednesday morning. The article sparked discussions on microblogging platform Weibo but was deleted by the afternoon.
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It was not clear why the nurses had sought to appeal for help via the journal nor the circumstances around publication of the letter. Neither Zeng, the lead author, nor the journal immediately responded to emails seeking comment on the letter.
On Thursday, the Lancet journal retracted the letter, saying the authors had requested that it be withdrawn because it was not a first-hand account.
"On Feb 26, 2020, we were informed by the authors of this correspondence that the account described therein was not a first-hand account, as the authors had claimed, and that they wished to withdraw the piece. We have therefore taken the decision to retract this correspondence," the Lancet said.
It gave no further explanation.
China has reported more than 78,000 coronavirus cases and 2,715 deaths, with most still concentrated in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province. The outbreak has overwhelmed Wuhan hospitals and pictures of exhausted nurses and doctors frequently circulate on social media.
While Beijing has issued appeals for medical supplies from abroad, it has not publicly asked for help from foreign medical workers.
NURSES NOT PART OF TEAM: MEDICAL TEAM
The nurses described the challenges of working long hours in extreme conditions. Frequent hand washing has led to painful rashes, they said, while some nurses have pressure ulcers on their ears and forehead after wearing an N95 respirator over long periods of time.
More than 3,000 medical staff in China have been infected by the virus, an official at China's National Health Commission said on Monday. At least nine have died.
A letter published on Wednesday in the Guangdong newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily representing the medical team dispatched by Guangdong province to assist in Wuhan distanced itself from the nurses' appeal for help.
It said that the two were not part of its medical team and that their description of conditions was not accurate.
Though the team had faced some challenges in the first days after arriving at Wuhan's Hankou hospital, conditions had improved, it said, and there were sufficient supplies of materials while staff had reasonable schedules.
Reuters could not reach the Guangdong Health Commission for comment. The National Health Commission did not respond to a fax seeking comment.