China coronavirus: Wuhan residents describe ‘doomsday’ scenes as patients overwhelm hospitals

Mimi Lau

Hundreds of patients in Wuhan who have yet to be confirmed as carrying the new strain of coronavirus are becoming increasingly desperate as the city struggles to cope with the numbers reporting pneumonia symptoms.

One 36-year-old, speaking by phone outside a major hospital in the city, said she had spent the past week taking her sick husband from hospital to hospital in a vain attempt to get him tested for the virus, which has already killed 41 people and infected hundreds more.

“I have nothing. No protective clothing, only a raincoat, and I am standing outside the hospital in the rain,” said the woman, who gave her name as Xiaoxi.

“I am desperate, I have lost count of time and days. I don’t know if we will both live to see the new year.”

She said that Lunar New Year’s eve felt like “doomsday” as there was nowhere for her and her sick husband to go in the locked-down city.

A video shared by Xiaoxi appeared to show the hallway to the fever ward of the hospital packed with anxious patients seeking attention from medical staff.

The footage also showed medical staff in protective clothing and what Xiaoxi said were the bodies of patients who had died in the hospital and been left in the corridor wrapped in linen.

“I handed a pack of tissues to a nurse. She was crying as she tried to get some people to come and move the bodies but no one responded,” she said.

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Xiaoxi said her husband had now joined those waiting in the emergency unit in the hope that medical staff would admit him.

She said he had first come down with a fever 10 days ago and had started coughing up blood, but four hospitals had turned him away, saying they had run out of space and were unable to perform further tests.

Xiaoxi even said they had been turned down when they called an ambulance.

“The first hospital told us to go home and gave us some flu medicine. But my husband’s fever continued and we ending up going from hospital to hospital only be told to go home with some antibiotics,” she said.

“My husband hasn’t eaten much for days and his condition kept getting worse. And people just keep dying, no one is taking care of the bodies. If this goes on like this, we will all be doomed.”

While the government has offered to pay for all expenses of patients confirmed to have the virus, those who have not yet received a positive test have been left to pay their own medical bills.

“I pay anything from hundreds to about 1,000 yuan [US$144] a day for medicines. There are many people like us. I saw many people who couldn’t afford the bill and just gave up coming and went home,” Xiaoxi said.

Hospitals turning people away as doctors say ‘home is best’ in many cases

A public notice posted by the Wuhan government on Friday ordered local officials to identify patients with virus symptoms and arrange for them to be tested at designated hospitals, which are not allowed to turn such patients away.

However, the notice also recommended that patients who were not considered infected be quarantined at home for observation.

Xiaoxi said the public health system had been overwhelmed by demand and was “out of control”.

“You see family members fighting with doctors and nurses, trying to get a diagnosis or a bed … we are desperate. Truly desperate,” she said.

Xiaoxi is currently staying in a hostel near the hospital and said she was now feeling unwell and afraid to return home to her six-year-old daughter.

“I can’t go home to infect my daughter and my elderly in-laws,” she said.

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