China have only now carried out their first autopsies on victims of the deadly coronavirus because there was only one place authorised to examine bodies of people dead from infectious diseases in the country, state media says.
China’s only approved medical facility for autopsies involving infectious diseases needing isolation of those infected is in Beijing’s Ditan Hospital.
Only after that was dealt with was it possible for a team of medical examiners to carry out the autopsies at the heart of the outbreak, at Wuhan Jinyitan Hospital, in Central China’s Hubei Province. This started yesterday (16th February) after they had obtained permission from the families, according to Chinese state media.
The team led by Professor Liu Liang, chief medical examiner at Wuhan’s Tongji Hospital, completed the operations at 3am and 6:45pm local time respectively, Chinese state media reported.
Results can be expected in around 10 days, the professor said.
It came a full 39 days after China’s National Health Commission reported its first official COVID-19 death on 9th January and since then the outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 1,770 in mainland China, infecting around 70,000 others.
According to reports, Professor Liu recommended the autopsies to health officials in Wuhan, and convinced them of the potential significance of his findings.
However, special arrangements still needed to be made in order to accommodate the operation at a time of strict emergency measures for disease prevention.
In addition, the bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients cannot be transferred or preserved, and must be immediately cremated to prevent the spread of disease, health commission guidelines have stated since 1st February.
Professor Liu told local media shortly after completing the autopsies: “We couldn’t transfer the body to Beijing, but we figured out another way.
“I performed both [autopsies], one early this morning. I slept for two hours and rushed to do the second.
“It was hard while wearing thick protective clothing. I was full of sweat.
“There was a lot of waiting and preparing before the operations actually began.
“The autopsies each took about two hours and 50 minutes. Three people took part.”
The medic, who is now himself undergoing a period of mandatory quarantine, revealed that the organs of the two patients were harvested in order to be examined in the coming days.
Professor Liu said it would take roughly 10 days to prepare his report, which he believes will give pathologists studying COVID-19 a better understanding of how the deadly disease spreads, and how best to treat critical patients.
He added: “We will study how the virus spreads through the patient’s body, and where precisely it attacks.
“Then we’ll know how to intervene, and protect patients against the virus and possible further attacks.”
No further details were given about the two deceased patients.
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