Chinese hospitals in chaos as lockdown spreads to affect millions

World Sergey Matyunin 24-Jan-2020
Chinese man wear surgical masks
ID 28666200 © Rafael Ben Ari |

Chinese officials seem to be struggling to contain the deadly new coronavirus.

It is feared that the lunar new year holiday, when hundreds of millions of people travel across the country and abroad, could fuel the spread of the virus.

At least 36 million people have been affected by unprecedented lockdowns imposed across 13 cities.

China says the virus, which is from the same family of viruses as Sars, is mutating and can be transmitted through human contact.

The disease has already killed 26 people and spread across South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.

The epicentre of the outbreak is the Chinese city of Wuhan. Officials have also heightened controls in at least 12 other cities in the province and cancelled major festival events across the country.

In Wuhan, streets are quiet, as most residents stay indoors. Other cities, including Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao have introduced similar measures.

In Zhijiang, all public venues have been shut down except hospitals, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, gas stations and drug stores. Indoor entertainment venues in Enshi city have been shut down.

There is suspicion that officials may be downplaying the number of cases recorded over recent weeks, recalling the government’s reluctance to disclose the full scale of the 2002-03 Sars outbreak, which killed almost 800 people.

Earlier today a video apparently taken inside Wuhan’s hospitals was uploaded to social media. It shows overcrowded facilities. Another video, apparently taken at Hankou People’s Hospital, showed long queues of patients wearing masks, waiting to be checked.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices posted online. Administrators at Wuhan University People’s Hospital set up a group chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.

At a meeting this week, World Health Organization stopped short of declaring the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern, but called on the global community to work together to fight the virus.