BEIJING – There is the infectious disease specialist who, having treated bird flu and influenza A and tuberculosis over the years, was felled during the coronavirus outbreak. An exhausted Jiang Jijun died of a heart attack Thursday while tending patients.
There is the seven-months-pregnant nurse who still went to work to treat those with coronavirus only to be infected with it herself. When her 70-year-old mother got it, too, the nurse had to complain on social media to attract the attention needed to get her admitted.
There are the health care workers wearing adult diapers because they do not have time to go to the bathroom. Then there are those with the ever-whiter hands, bleached by all the disinfectant.
As hospitals around the coronavirus ground zero of Wuhan struggle to deal with the outbreak, accounts are emerging of shortages of just about everything.
There are not enough hospitals and not enough beds, not enough doctors and not enough nurses, not enough rubber gloves and not enough face masks.
Hospitals are so short of space that a pop-up quarantine facility with 1,000 beds is being rapidly built on the outskirts of Wuhan. State media broadcast footage Friday of four dozen excavators and bulldozers working to prepare land for the temporary hospital, which will be completed within six days.
“The site being built is to remedy the shortage of existing medical resources,” the state news agency Xinhua said in a report Friday. “Because it will use prefabricated buildings, it can be built fast and also won’t cost much.”
Many people are at the breaking point in the city at the center of an expanding quarantine zone in central China.
“I don’t want to do this job any more. Just fire me! Kick me out, send me back home,” a doctor at Wuhan No. 5 Hospital yelled into the phone, frustration and exhaustion exploding out of him.
“Don’t I want to go home to celebrate the new year?” he screamed in his Wuhan accent, presumably at his boss, adding that he had done four back-to-back shifts as China made plans for the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Friday. “Don’t we want to live, too?”
A video of the unnamed doctor, filmed by a patient, was widely shared on Weibo, the microblogging site, but could not be independently verified by the Washington Post. Several people in Wuhan, however, vouched for its authenticity, and there were many others like it that emerged from the quarantined city.
Together, they provide a window into the extreme levels of stress in the overburdened hospitals of Wuhan as they battle a new pneumonialike coronavirus.
Hubei’s provincial government declared a Level One emergency on Friday, the highest category for a public health event. It means the local government can mobilize personnel and equipment; set up a perimeter for the epidemic and enforce a regional blockade; forcibly quarantine infected people and suspected cases; institute price controls, and punish “rumormongers.”
Four other provinces and four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing — have also imposed Level One emergencies.
The outbreak underscores the challenges in China’s health care system and, in particular, the severe shortage of primary-care physicians. There are just 60,000 licensed general practitioners, accounting for only 3.5% of all doctors, in a country of 1.4 billion people.
“The situation out here is grim,” one nurse who works at Wuhan Xincheng Hospital wrote in a private group on WeChat, a popular messaging app.
“All major hospitals in Wuhan are full to the brim and have run out of space,” the nurse wrote. “There is simply no room to admit any more new cases.”
Medical facilities are running extremely short of protective equipment like surgical masks, full-body hazmat-style suits and protective goggles. Current supplies would last only three to five days, ThePaper.com, a Chinese news site, reported Friday, citing officials from multiple hospitals.
The central government has allocated $144 million in emergency funding, but it may not have anything to spend it on. At the beginning of the week, before the full extent of the outbreak was known, one surgical mask company had received orders for 80 million masks.
While some workers are wearing diapers because they do not have time to answer the call of nature, others are wearing diapers so they do not have to take off their hazmat suit, potentially ripping it.
“We know that the protective suit we wear could be the last one we have, and we can’t afford to waste anything,” a Wuhan Union Hospital doctor, who only identified himself as “Mr. Do,” wrote on Weibo.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control said 15 hospital staff in Wuhan had contracted the virus in the course of their work. Fourteen of them — one doctor and 13 nurses — were infected by just one patient, a person with coronavirus who underwent brain surgery.
But medical personnel in Wuhan fear many more have the virus. “Definitely more than 15 medical workers [in Wuhan] are infected,” said one doctor, speaking to the South China Morning Post on the condition of anonymity.