Mentally ill focus of new State circular
The central government on Tuesday urged medical staff to work closely with psychiatrists to treat novel coronavirus patients who have mental illnesses, just days after a psychiatric patient escaped quarantine in Hubei province－center of the outbreak－and sent shock waves across local communities.
Hospitals treating such patients must consult psychiatrists as soon as possible, and local health authorities can designate mental healthcare facilities to assist the communication, according to a circular released by the State Council's working group for epidemic control.
For home-based psychiatric patients, neighborhood authorities are required to make house calls and see to it that suspected cases are all isolated, and they must make sure staff at isolation sites are informed of the patients' mental conditions, the circular said.
The move came after a psychiatric patient on Sunday escaped an isolation site in Xiaogan, Hubei province. The man was quickly found and taken back to the site.
Though the man had tested negative for the virus and was later transferred to a local psychiatric hospital, the episode has caused rumors and misinformation to spread throughout the city.
Central government figures show that 323 psychiatric patients have been infected so far, and 43 others may also have pneumonia.
Though mainly found in Wuhan, capital of Hubei, they are scattered across 17 provinces.
For better care and management targeting patients with mental illness, the circular required psychiatric hospitals to draft plans to cope with the outbreak and work with local medical facilities to confirm infections.
They must conduct regular disinfection, reduce family visits and set up isolation rooms in an effort to minimize cross-infection risks, the circular said, adding newcomers should be screened and quarantined if necessary.
Neighborhood authorities are urged to ensure that patients with mental illnesses in their communities have access to sufficient psychiatric medications.
For acute psychiatric patients, neighborhood authorities are required to contact psychiatric hospitals for expertise, the circular said.
The moves were aimed at improving care for psychiatric patients and preventing them from becoming sources of infections in communities or at mental health facilities, it added.
China has imposed strict travel restrictions and quarantine measures as part of broader efforts to stop the spread of the deadly pathogen, which has killed 2,004 and sickened more than 70,000 on the Chinese mainland as of Tuesday midnight.
The measures have slowed the transport of essential supplies, including medications crucial to psychiatric treatment, making people with mental illnesses a lurking threat in their communities during the outbreak.
China News Service reported on Sunday that a 22-year-old girl with depression in Wuhan has been seeking help online to maintain the supply of medications for herself and dozens of other desperate psychiatric patients.
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