BEIJING (Reuters) – Beijing-based doctor Howard Bernstein said he hadn’t seen anything like it in more than three decades of emergency medicine.
Patients arrive at his hospital in ever-increasing numbers; He said nearly all of them are elderly and many are unwell due to symptoms of COVID and pneumonia.
Bernstein’s account mirrors similar testimony from medical staff across China struggling to deal with China’s abrupt reversal on its previously strict coronavirus policies this month, which has been followed by a nationwide wave of infections.
It is by far the largest outbreak in the country since the epidemic began in the central city of Wuhan three years ago. Government hospitals and crematoriums in Beijing also struggled this month amid huge demand.
“The hospital is overwhelmed from top to bottom,” Bernstein told Reuters at the end of a “stressful” shift at the privately owned Beijing United Family Hospital in the east of the capital.
He said that “the intensive care unit is full,” as well as the emergency department, fever clinic, and other departments.
“A lot of them are hospitalized. They haven’t gotten better in a day or two, so there is no flow, and so people keep coming to the emergency room, but they can’t go up to the hospital rooms,” he said. “They were stuck in the emergency room for days.”
In the past month, Bernstein has gone from never treating a COVID patient to seeing dozens a day.
“The biggest challenge, honestly, is I think we weren’t ready for that,” he said.
Sonia Gothard Borough, 48, chief medical officer at Raffles Private Hospital in Beijing, said patient numbers are five to six times normal levels, and the average age of patients has risen by about 40 to more than 70 within one year. week.
“It’s always the same profile,” she said. This means that most patients have not been vaccinated.
She said patients and their relatives visit Raffles because local hospitals are “overwhelmed,” and because they want to buy Paxlovid, the COVID treatment made by Pfizer, which many places, including Raffles, are running out of.
“They want the drug as an alternative to the vaccine, but the drug does not replace the vaccine,” Gotthard-Beauro said, adding that there are strict criteria for when her team can prescribe it.
Jutard-Bourreau, who like Bernstein has been working in China for about a decade, fears that the worst of this wave in Beijing is yet to arrive.
Elsewhere in China, medical staff told Reuters that resources are already depleted to breaking point in some cases, with levels of COVID and illness among staff particularly high.
A nurse in the western city of Xian said that 45 of the 51 nurses in her department and all emergency department staff have contracted the virus in recent weeks.
“There are a lot of positive cases among my colleagues,” said Nurse Wang, 22. “Almost all doctors suffer from it.”
Wang and nurses at other hospitals said they were required to come to the service even if they tested positive and had a mild fever.
Jiang, a 29-year-old nurse in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Hubei province, said staff attendance has dropped by more than 50 percent in her ward, which has stopped accepting new patients. She said she works 16+ hour shifts with insufficient support.
“I’m afraid if a patient seems agitated, you have to rein him in, but you can’t do that on your own easily,” she said. “It’s not a great position to be in.”
“political” death rate
Doctors who spoke to Reuters said they are very concerned about the elderly, as tens of thousands of them may die, according to expert estimates.
Britain-based health data company Airfinity has estimated that more than 5,000 people likely die each day from COVID-19 in China, offering a stark contrast to official data from Beijing on the current outbreak in the country.
The National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the concerns raised by medical staff in this article.
China reported no COVID-19 deaths on the mainland for the six days through Sunday, even as demand for crematoriums soared, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.
China has narrowed its definition of classifying deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving COVID-related pneumonia or respiratory failure, surprising the world’s health experts.
“It’s not medicine, it’s politics,” Gotthard Borough said. “If they’re dying now with COVID, it’s because of COVID. The death rate now is political numbers, not medical.”
Additional coverage by Beijing Newsroom. Editing by Jerry Doyle
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