BAZHOU, China (AP) — Yao Ruyan walked frantically outside the fever clinic of a county hospital in China’s industrial Hebei province, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Beijing. Her mother-in-law was suffering from Covid-19 and needed urgent medical attention, but all nearby hospitals were full.
“They say there are no beds here,” she barked into the phone.
China is battling its first national wave of COVID-19, emergency departments in small towns and cities southwest of Beijing are overflowing. Intensive care units divert ambulances, relatives of the sick search for open beds, patients collapse on benches in hospital corridors and lie on the floor because there are no beds.
Yao’s elderly mother-in-law fell ill with the coronavirus a week ago. They first went to a local hospital, where a lung scan showed signs of pneumonia. But the hospital is unable to handle COVID-19 cases, Yao was told. Told to go to bigger hospitals in neighboring districts.
As Yao and her husband went from hospital to hospital, they found all the wards full. Zhuozhou Hospital, an hour’s drive from Yao’s hometown, is the latest disappointment.
Yao frantically moves elderly patients past wheelchairs toward the check-in counter. Again, she was told the hospital was full and she would have to wait.
“I’m angry,” Yao said through tears, clutching lung scans from a local hospital. “I don’t have much hope. We were out for a long time and I was scared because she was having trouble breathing.
Over two days, Andhra journalists visited five hospitals and two crematoriums in cities and towns in Baoding and Langfang provinces in central Hebei province. The region was at the center of one of China’s first outbreaks after the government eased Covid-19 restrictions. In November and December. For weeks, the area was quiet as people stayed home sick.
Many have recovered now. Today, markets are bustling, restaurants and cafes are buzzing with cars, even as the virus spreads to other parts of China. In recent days, the headlines in the state media have been that the area ” Normal life resumes.”
But life is normal in the emergency wards and crematoriums of central Hebei. Even as young people return to work and lines at flu clinics shrink, many of Hebei’s elderly remain in critical condition. As they overrun the ICUs and funeral homes, it will trigger what’s to come to the rest of China.
The Chinese government has recorded only seven COVID-19 deaths since restrictions were dramatically eased on December 7, bringing the country’s total to 5,241. On Tuesday, a Chinese health official said China was only counting deaths Pneumonia, or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 death toll, is a narrow definition that excludes many deaths due to COVID-19 elsewhere.
Experts predict between one million and two million deaths in China next year, and the World Health Organization has warned Beijing’s counting method “underestimates the actual death toll.”
On Wednesday, Baoding No. in Zhuozhou. 2 At the hospital, patients crowded the corridors of the emergency department. Patients were breathing through respirators. A woman sobs after doctors say a loved one has died.
Ambulances were diverted due to overcrowding in the ICU. A medical worker shouted at relatives who were wheeling a patient from an arriving ambulance.
“There is no oxygen or electricity in this corridor!” the worker exclaimed. “If you can’t even give him oxygen, how can you save him?”
“If you don’t want any delays, turn around and leave quickly!” she said.
The patient was put back in the ambulance and the relatives left. It took off, lights flashing.
In two days in the area, Andhra journalists passed thirty ambulances. On a highway toward Beijing, two ambulances followed each other, lights flashing, while a third headed in the opposite direction. Dispatchers are outnumbered as Beijing city officials reported a six-fold increase in emergency calls earlier this month.
Some ambulances go to death homes. At the Zhuozhou crematorium, furnaces are burning longer and workers are struggling to cope with a spike in deaths over the past week, an employee says. A funeral shop employee estimated they were cremating 20 to 30 bodies a day, up from three to four before the COVID-19 measures were eased.
“Many people are dying,” said Zhao Yongsheng, a worker at a funeral shop near a local hospital. “They work day and night, but they cannot burn it all.”
At a crematorium in Gaobeidian, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Zhuozhou, the body of an 82-year-old woman was brought a two-hour drive from Beijing because funeral homes in the Chinese capital were full. The woman’s grandson, Liang.
“They said we have to wait 10 days,” said Liang, who gave only his surname due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Liang’s grandmother had not been vaccinated when she came down with coronavirus symptoms and spent her final days on a ventilator in a Beijing ICU.
For more than two hours at the Gaobeidian crematorium on Thursday, AP reporters observed three ambulances and two vans unloading bodies. A hundred or so people huddled in groups, some in traditional white Chinese mourning clothes. They burned funeral papers and burst firecrackers.
“There was a lot!” A worker asked about the number of Covid-19 deaths, before funeral director Ma Xiaowei walked in and brought reporters to meet a local government official.
When questioned by the official, Ma confirmed there were more cremations, but said he did not know if COVID-19 was involved. He blamed the arrival of winter for additional deaths.
“Every year this season, there’s more,” Ma said. “The pandemic doesn’t really show up” in the death toll, he said, and the official nodded.
Although evidence and modeling suggest large numbers of people will become infected and die, some Hebei officials deny that the virus has had much of an impact.
“There are no so-called outbreaks, it’s all under control,” said Wang Bing, executive manager of Gaobeidian Hospital, speaking at the hospital’s main gate. “There is a slight decline in patients.”
Wang said only one-sixth of the hospital’s 600 beds were occupied, but refused to let AP journalists inside. Two ambulances arrived at the hospital during the half hour AP reporters were there, and a relative of the patient told the AP that Goupedian’s emergency room was turned away because it was full.
In the city of Paiko, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south, emergency room doctor Sun Yana was honest even as local officials listened.
“There are more people affected by the flu, and the number of patients has actually increased,” Sun said. She hesitated, then added, “I can’t tell if I’m still busy or not. Our emergency department is always busy.
Baiko New Area Aerospace Hospital was quiet and orderly, with empty beds and short lines as nurses sprayed disinfectant. Covid-19 patients are separated from others, staff said, to prevent cross-infection. But due to less medical equipment, serious cases are sent to hospitals in big cities, they added.
The lack of ICU capacity in Baico, which has about 60,000 residents, reflects a nationwide problem. Experts say medical resources in China’s villages and towns, home to about 500 million of China’s 1.4 billion people, lag far behind big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Some districts do not have an ICU bed.
Due to this, critically ill patients are forced to travel to big cities for treatment. In Bazhou, a town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Baghou, Thursday night Longfang No. 4 A hundred or more people crowded into the hospital’s emergency department.
Guards worked to quell the crowd as people jostled for positions. With no room in the ward, patients spilled onto corridors and corridors. Sick people spread blankets on the floor as staff frantically wheeled gurneys and ventilators. In one hallway, half a dozen patients suffocated on metal benches as oxygen tanks pumped air into their noses.
Outside a CT scan room, a woman sitting on a bench panted, her nose dripping in crumbled tissue. A man was wheeled out of the emergency room on a stretcher as medical staff attached electrodes to his chest. At a check-in counter, a woman on a stool gasped for air as a young man grabbed her arm.
“Everyone in my family has Covid,” asked one person at the counter, and four others shouted for attention behind him. “What medicine can I buy?”
On a sidewalk, a man sped by, yelling into his cell phone.
“The population has exploded!” he said. “There’s no way you’re paying attention here, there’s so many people.”
It’s unclear how many patients had COVID-19. Some had only mild symptoms, illustrating another problem, experts say: People in China rely too much on hospitals It is easy to overburden emergency medical resources compared to other countries.
For more than two hours, AP reporters saw half a dozen or more ambulances pulling up to the hospital’s ICU and transporting critically ill patients to other hospitals, even as cars arrived with dozens of new patients.
A brown van pulled up to the ICU and frantically honked at the waiting ambulance. “Move!” The driver shouted.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” cried a troubled voice. A man bundled in blankets was lifted from the back of the van by 5 men and taken to the hospital. Guards shouted in the packed ward: “Make way, make way!”
The guard asked a patient to move, but a relative backed away as he squeezed him. The bundled man was laid on the ground as the doctors ran back and forth. “Grandpa!” A woman bent over the patient and cried.
Medical personnel rush in on ventilators. “Can you open his mouth?” Someone shouted.
As white plastic tubes were attached to his face, the man began to breathe easily.
Others are not so lucky. Relatives surrounding another bed began to tear up as an elderly woman’s vitals flattened. A man pulled a cloth over the woman’s face and they stood in silence before her body was wheeled away. Within minutes, another patient took her place.
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