COVID-19 causes crowded ICUs and crematoriums in China

Yao Ruyan frantically walked past a county hospital for fever patients in China’s industrial Hebei province, 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of China. Beijing. Her mother-in-law had COVID-19 and needed urgent medical attention, but all the nearby hospitals were overcrowded.

“They say there are no beds here,” the woman yelled into the phone.

As China suffers the first nationwide wave of COVID-19, emergency rooms in small cities and towns southwest of Beijing are overwhelmed. Intensive care units refuse ambulances, relatives of the sick search for available beds and patients collapse in hospital corridors and are laid on the floor for lack of beds.

Yao’s elderly mother-in-law had contracted the coronavirus a week earlier. They first went to a local hospital, where lung scans showed signs of pneumonia, but the hospital could not treat severe cases of COVID-19, so Yao was told to go to larger hospitals in neighboring counties.

When Yao and her husband drove from hospital to hospital, they would run into full wards. The Zhuozhou hospital, an hour’s drive from Yao’s hometown, was the latest disappointment.

Yao made her way to the registration desk, passing wheelchairs frantically wheeling elderly patients. Once again, they told him that the hospital was full and he would have to wait.

“I’m furious,” Yao replied, crying, as she showed the lung scans from the local hospital. “I don’t have much hope. We’ve been off her for a long time and I’m terrified because she’s having a hard time breathing.”

For two days, journalists from Associated Press They visited five hospitals and two crematoriums in towns and small cities in Baoding and Langfang prefectures in the central province of Hebei. The area was the epicenter of one of China’s first outbreaks after the state relaxed its COVID-19 controls in November and December. For weeks, the region remained silent as people fell ill and stayed home to prevent further contagion.

Many have already recovered. Today, markets are crowded, diners fill restaurants and motorists honk their horns in traffic, as the virus spreads to other parts of China. In recent days, state media headlines said the area was “beginning to resume normal life.”

But life in the emergency rooms and crematoriums of central Hebei is far from normal. Even as young people are back to work and lines at fever clinics are thinning, many of Hebei’s elderly are falling into critical condition. The overflow from intensive care units and funeral homes could be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of China.

The Chinese government has reported just seven deaths from COVID-19 since restrictions were dramatically eased on December 7, bringing the total death toll in the country to 5,241. On Tuesday, a Chinese health official said the country only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official number of deaths from COVID-19, a narrow definition that excludes many deaths that would be attributed to COVID-19 elsewhere.

Experts predict that between one million and 2 million people will have died from causes related to the covid in China by the end of next year, and a senior official from the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that Beijing’s way of counting “will underestimate the true number of deaths.”

At the Baoding No. 2 Hospital in Zhuozhou on Wednesday, patients thronged the corridor of the emergency room. The sick breathed with the help of respirators. A woman mourned after doctors told her a loved one had died.

The ICU was so full that ambulances were turned away. A medical worker yelled at relatives who were arriving with a patient in an ambulance.

“There is no oxygen or electricity in this corridor!” exclaimed the worker. “If you can’t even give him oxygen, how can he be saved?”

“If you don’t want to waste time, turn around and get out quickly!” he said.

The relatives left and loaded the patient into the ambulance. He left with the siren on.

During two days of touring the region, journalists from the PA about thirty ambulances passed by. On a highway toward Beijing, two ambulances whizzed by, sirens blaring, while a third traveled in the opposite direction. Dispatchers are overwhelmed, and authorities in Beijing said emergency calls rose six-fold earlier this month.

Some ambulances go to funeral homes. At the Zhuozhou crematorium, furnaces are burning overtime as workers struggle to cope with a surge in deaths in the past week, according to an employee. A funeral home worker estimated that between 20 and 30 bodies are being cremated a day, compared to the three or four registered before the measures against COVID-19 were relaxed.

“A lot of people are dying,” said Zhao Yongsheng, a worker at a funeral goods shop near a local hospital. “They work day and night, but they can’t cremate all of them.”

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