Beijing: China disclosed on Friday that 1,716 medical workers have contracted the virus and six of them have died.

The announcement was the first official confirmation about the number of infected medical workers, and is likely to ratchet up fears about the spread of the virus.

Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said the numbers of infected workers represented 3.8 per cent of China’s overall confirmed infections as of Feb. 11. The victims represented 0.4 per cent of all deaths nationwide.

Zeng said that Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, recorded 1,502 cases of infected medical workers, with 1,102 of them in Wuhan, the provincial capital. He added that further research was needed to ascertain whether the infections spread throughout the hospital or within the community.

“I think it’s quite concerning,” said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong. “Health care workers face the challenge of caring for a substantial number of patients in Wuhan. It’s worrying to discover that a number of them have been infected.”

Medical workers in Hubei, already working round the clock, face a shortage of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and safety goggles. They have resorted to begging from friends, putting out frequent calls for donations, and using tape to patch up torn masks and gowns. Many doctors and nurses there say they eat only one meal a day because going to the restroom means removing and discarding safety gowns that they would not be able to replace.

During the Sars outbreak of 2002-03, 961 medical workers were infected, representing 18 per cent of all infections, according to government data. About 1 per cent of the medical workers infected with Sars died, the medical expert Xu Dezhong told Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

A senior health official in Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, has called on residents who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate blood plasma, believing their naturally produced antibodies could be used to treat patients who are still sick.

Dr. Zhang Dingyu, the director of the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, made his appeal on Thursday after Chinese researchers said they believed such antibody treatments could help people recover from the virus.

The search for a drug capable of treating or curing the virus has frustrated researchers, as rates of infection and deaths continue to mount.

The government is currently prescribing a combination of anti-viral drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. But on Thursday, China National Biotec Group, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Health, said it found that administering a round of human antibodies from the survivors to more than 10 critically ill patients caused inflammation levels to drop significantly after 12 to 24 hours of treatment.

The company called the use of plasma “the most effective method, which can significantly reduce the mortality of critically ill patients.”

Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, said the use of antibodies to treat the coronavirus was “a really good idea,” noting that it had been used before in influenza pandemics. But he cautioned that it needed to be proven in a controlled trial.

“It’s basically transferring immunity from a patient who has recovered to a patient still fighting the infection, and then helping them to recover,” he said.

Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 people had been killed by the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.

The tally in Hubei jumped most dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases. The government now takes into account cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including the use of CT scans, and not just those confirmed with specialized testing kits.

A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said it “seriously condemned” the attack, against an outpatient clinic in the New Territories district of Tsuen Wan. A police spokeswoman said it had occurred overnight and left a door charred. The first attack, on Saturday afternoon, damaged an air-conditioner. No one was injured in either attack.

The clinic is about 4 miles from an apartment building where dozens of residents were evacuated earlier this week after two residents on different floors were found to be infected, raising new fears about how the virus spreads. (Officials said an unsealed pipe might be to blame.)

There were 56 confirmed cases in the city as of Friday. Fearing a wider outbreak, residents have been staging small-scale protests at several clinics assigned to treat people with mild symptoms of the virus. Late last month, the government shelved a plan to turn an unoccupied housing project into a quarantine facility after protesters set a fire in the lobby.

As public anger and anxiety mount, the Beijing-backed government has been accused by many residents of not doing enough to contain the spread of the virus, including the refusal to quickly order a complete shutdown of the border with mainland China. Authorities have gradually restricted arrivals from mainland China over the past few weeks.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Friday that her administration will do its best to repatriate more than 2,000 of the city’s residents stranded in Hubei province and aboard the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast.

The Hong Kong government has received more than 1,000 requests for help from over 300 cities across Hubei, including in Wuhan, Lam said. Ten people from Hong Kong in the region were confirmed to have been infected.

Some 330 Hong Kong residents remain stuck on the cruise ship in Japan, and 11 of them were infected, officials said. Hong Kong authorities are pressing their Japanese counterparts to consider allowing its citizens to be quarantined onshore and to get tested for the virus as soon as possible, said John Lee, the city’s security minister, on Friday.During the coronavirus outbreak, cinemas and restaurants across China have shut their doors, parks and streets are empty, and public events have been postponed.

For couples, that meant there were few places to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Friday. But some came up with creative ways to declare their love.

In a nod to the scarcity of fresh vegetables, people ordered nicely wrapped bouquets of broccoli, cauliflowers and snacks, according to data from the delivery service Meituan. Others sent face masks, goggles and wipes, the data showed.

Online meal orders also reflected the crisis at hand. Last Valentine’s Day, the most popular orders were steak sets for two, hot pot and Cantonese food. This year, the top choices included simpler options - pizza and basic Chinese meals.

Hotels, of course, have seen bookings plummet. Zhang Lu, vice president of Myriad, a chain of 40 “love hotels” across the country, said the vast majority of them were closed on government orders. Some were being used as quarantine sites.

“I really hope this is going to end soon,” Zhang said.

Many people were stranded far away from their significant others because of travel restrictions. On the social platform Weibo, people shared makeup tips for online video chats and recipes for homemade meals, under the trending topic “it’s a long-distance relationship for everyone this year.”

For florists who count on Valentine’s Day business, the situation was brutal. In Dounan Flower Market in the southwestern province of Yunnan, sellers had to dump millions of roses, according to a report by Jiemian, a Chinese news site. The price of roses had collapsed while the cost of delivery soared.

“Right now many people are worried about whether they can buy enough food,” one seller said. “They are not in the mood for flowers.”