One week after China took an unconventional method of locking down Wuhan—the city at the centre of the outbreak—tension and anger have been growing in the city due to shortage of hospital beds, medical supplies and doctors.
In fact, doctors and nurses are working around the clock to attend to massive amount of incoming patients, and even face physical threats from panicking patients.
One doctor who is working at a Wuhan hospital said he had not returned home for two weeks now, and during a recent midnight shift, he had 150 patients queued up at the outpatient clinic.
“All patients are anxious. Some became desperate after waiting for hours in the cold. I heard one in the queue say he had waited for so long that he wanted to stab us. I am worried. Killing a few of us will not reduce the queue, right?” the doctor was quoted in an article by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
According to another report by the state broadcaster CCTV on Thursday (30 January), two doctors at the Wuhan Forth Hospital were beaten up by a relative of a patient infected with the deadly coronavirus. The relative was accused of pulling and damaging one of the doctor’s mask and protective clothing – potentially exposing him to the virus – after the death of his father-in-law in the hospital. The man was later apprehended by the police.
“Emotions are running high as the hospital has been running at maximum capacity since early January. Many cannot find a bed. But what can we do?” said the doctor who preferred not to be named as he is not authorised to comment on the matter, to SCMP.
He added, “Doctors and nurses are working non-stop, even the midnight shift is totally full. We are surrounded by patients coughing next to us all night long.”
Beijing revealed that it had sent out more than 6,000 medical individuals to assist exhausted colleagues in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital. Additionally, China’s army, navy and air force have also deployed doctors to support the three hospitals treating patients in the city.
Despite having 500,000 medical staff cancelling their leaves during the Chinese New Year holidays over the past week, as 60 percent of China’s confirmed infection and 95 percent of deaths due to the virus occurred in Hubei, hospitals are reaching breaking point.
Even with army doctors who are providing important backup, hospitals are still under-staffed, said a person who knows about the operation in an SCMP report.
“Too many patients need to be treated, too many tests need to be done, everybody is busy. But with our team in there, at least the Wuhan comrades can have one or two more hours sleep,” said the individual who would like to remain anonymous.
As of Sunday, the death toll of the coronavirus rose to 304, bring the total number of cases in China to 13,700. The number of infections has exceeded the total reported in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003.
In Singapore, 18 cases have been reported as of 1 February. The novel coronavirus also claimed its first fatality outside of mainland China when a man died due to the virus in the Philippines.
On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also declared the outbreak in China a global public health emergency, and noted that there are chances for the virus to spread to countries that lack the capabilities to deal with it.
Lack of medical supply
Other medical staff pointed out that although the supply of essential gear had improved, but it is still not enough.
A medical doctor, who asked not to be named, mentioned that he had worn the same protective clothing for 10-hour straight during his shift due to the shortage.
“The gear needs to be changed every time we come out of [infected] zone,” he explained to SCMP.
He continued, “I wear adult diapers and try to drink less water during the shift, so that I don’t have to go to the washroom. This is common among my colleagues.”
Meanwhile, the lack of supply has become critical in Huanggang, a city of seven million people not too far from Wuhan, where some medical workers resorted to wearing raincoats and garbage bags as shoe cover to shield themselves against infection, according to Yicai, a financial news site.
“We absolutely cannot let Huanggang become a second Wuhan,” Wang Xiaodong, the governor of Hubei Province, said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
On Sunday, Wuhan’s official newspaper Yangtze Daily reported that the city been supplied with 10,000 packs of protective clothing, 800,000 of N95 masks, 5 million disposable masks as well as 4,200 pairs or goggles.
“The supplies were basically adequate. The shortage has been alleviated,” the report stated.
However, the Tongji Hospital revealed that there was an issue with the quality of equipment being supplied.
“We’ve learned from experience that some low quality equipment just breaks. I’m not sure who bought those for the hospital, as they could lead to the deaths of doctors and nurses,” the doctor was quoted in SCMP’s article.
Separately, a doctor from the neurosurgery unit at Wuhan Union Hospital took to his Weibo account (China’s equivalent of Twitter) on Thursday to plead for supplies as the hospital was in dire need of medical goods, which include goggles, single-use protective suits and N95 respirator masks.
“Our supplies are nearly all used up! Please forward this, sorry for always disturbing everyone!”
The post also appealed for financial donations, and included bank account details and the contact details of hospital staff if anyone wish to get in touch with them.
A man surnamed Cheng, who is one of the contacts, mentioned that single-use protective suits were needed the most.
“Without protective suits, doctors cannot come into contact with patients or treat them at all, so it’s greatly affecting our work,” he noted.
He added, “We go through a huge number of these suits a day. We initially received a lot of public donations after our first request for help, but we found that many of them didn’t fit medical guidelines and could not be used.”
SCMP’s report also mentioned that another doctor pointed out that his colleague found out that management and administration staff had taken more face masks than they need from the hospital’s supply.
“I’m angry. The frontline is short of supplies but the bosses are taking so many of them shouldn’t we be given a higher priority? The bosses inspecting our hospital are wearing top notch N95 masks, while frontline doctors and nurses only have the regular ones. What else can I say?” he expressed.