Doctors working despite infection, beds full of dozens of elderly people struggling to breathe – on the front lines of China’s worst Covid outbreak, hospitals are struggling.
Many Chinese cheered after Beijing announced the end of mandatory quarantines this week, effectively drawing the curtain on years of tight virus controls that have isolated the world’s most populous country.
But as China opens up, cases are increasing. The healthcare system is overwhelmed and the crematoria are struggling to cope with the influx of corpses.
At Nankai Hospital in Tianjin, about 140 kilometers southwest of the capital Beijing, AFP saw more than two dozen mostly elderly patients lying on stretchers in public areas of the emergency room on Wednesday.
Most were on IV fluids and some appeared to be having trouble breathing. Some appeared unconscious or not fully responsive.
“Yes, they all have Covid,” a doctor told AFP.
“The problem is there are no beds at the moment,” another doctor was heard telling a patient’s caregiver.
This picture shows Covid-19 patients on beds at Tianjin Nankai Hospital in Tianjin December 28, 2022. – Cities across China are grappling with rising infections, a resulting shortage of medicines and overcrowded wards and crematoria after Beijing suddenly had its zero covid dismantled lockdown and testing regime. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP)
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said last week that it would no longer publish an official daily Covid death toll.
But with the end of mass testing – and China’s decision to reclassify Covid deaths in a move that analysts said would dramatically downplay the deaths – those numbers were no longer believed to reflect reality.
A doctor in Tianjin said his emergency room was much busier than usual “because of the outbreak.”
Medical workers are expected to “pretty much all” continue working despite testing positive for the virus, he added.
In the hospital’s separate fever clinic, AFP saw doctors in hazmat suits tending to about 30 mostly elderly patients, some of whom were holding printouts of CT scans.
“Try not to move too much,” a man muttered to a groaning elderly woman on a gurney in an emergency room corridor as patients and medical staff streamed past.
– “Four hour wait” –
At nearby Tianjin First Center Hospital, an AFP reporter saw at least one dead person being wheeled out of a ward.
AFP counted more than 25 elderly patients lying on makeshift beds in the narrow aisles of the emergency department.
Many were on IV fluids and some lay dormant. Others shivered and coughed in face masks, woolen hats and thick blankets.
In a resuscitation room, an AFP reporter saw a group of doctors gathered around an intubated elderly patient who was hooked up to machines monitoring vital signs.
Security personnel stood at the doors of some consultation rooms to ensure the long lines of patients remained orderly.
Hospital staff confirmed to AFP that the majority of patients in the emergency room experienced complications related to Covid.
In a corner near the pharmacy window, a man used a cotton swab to dab water around the parched lips of an elderly woman on a stretcher who was clearly struggling to breathe.
Several ambulances brought more patients to the department during the afternoon.
“It’s a four-hour wait to see a doctor,” staff were heard telling an elderly man he had Covid.
“There are 300 people in front of you.”
AFP journalists have observed similar scenes at hospitals in other parts of the country, including Shanghai and Chongqing, where hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.
© Agence France-Presse