COVID cases in China overwhelm hospitals

BEIJING, Dec 26 (Reuters) – In more than three decades of emergency medicine, Beijing resident physician Howard Bernstein said, he had never seen anything like it.

Patients are coming to your hospital in increasing numbers; almost all are elderly and many are very ill with symptoms of COVID and pneumonia, she said.

Bernstein’s account reflects similar testimony from medical staff across China struggling to cope after China’s abrupt U-turn on its previously strict COVID policies this month was followed by a wave of infections across the country. .

It is by far the country’s biggest outbreak since the pandemic began in the central city of Wuhan three years ago. Beijing government hospitals and crematoriums have also struggled this month amid high 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.

“The ICU is full,” as are the emergency department, the fever clinic and other wards, he said.

“Many of them were admitted to the hospital. They don’t get better in a day or two, so there’s no flow and so people keep coming to the ER, but they can’t go up to the hospital rooms.” , said. he said she. “They’re stuck in the ER for days.”

In the past month, Bernstein has gone from never having treated a COVID patient to seeing dozens a day.

“Honestly, the biggest challenge is that I think we weren’t prepared for this,” he said.

Sonia Jutard-Bourreau, 48, the medical director of Raffles private hospital in Beijing, said the number of patients is five to six times higher than normal levels, and the average age of patients has skyrocketed by about 40 years to over 70 in the space of a week.

“It’s always the same profile,” he said. “That’s because most of the patients haven’t been vaccinated.”

Patients and their families visit Raffles because local hospitals are “overwhelmed,” he said, and because they want to buy Paxlovid, the COVID treatment made by Pfizer, which is running low in many places, including Raffles.

“They want the drug as a vaccine replacement, but the drug is not a vaccine replacement,” Jutard-Bourreau said, adding that there are strict criteria for when his team can prescribe it.

An employee works on the production line of a fever medicine at a Guizhou Bailing plant amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Anshun, Guizhou province, December 24, 2022. cnsphoto via REUTERS

Jutard-Bourreau, who like Bernstein has worked in China for around a decade, fears that the worst of this wave in Beijing is yet to come.

Elsewhere in China, medical staff told Reuters that resources are already stretched in some cases, as COVID and levels of illness among staff have been particularly high.

A nurse based 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 so many positive cases among my colleagues,” said the 22-year-old nurse, surnamed Wang. “Almost all the doctors agree.”

Wang and nurses at other hospitals said they have been told to report to work even if they test positive and have a mild fever.

Jiang, a 29-year-old nurse at a hospital psychiatric ward in Hubei province, said staff attendance has dropped by more than 50 percent at her ward, which has stopped accepting new patients. She said that she is working 16+ hour shifts with insufficient support.

“I’m concerned that if the patient seems to be agitated, they need to be restrained, but it’s not easy to do it alone,” he said. “It’s not a great situation to be in.”


Doctors who spoke to Reuters said they were most concerned about the elderly, tens of thousands of whom could die, according to expert estimates.

More than 5,000 people are likely to die every day from COVID-19 in China, estimated Britain-based health data firm Airfinity, offering a dramatic contrast to official data from Beijing on the country’s current outbreak.

The National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on concerns raised by medical staff in this article.

China reported no COVID deaths on the mainland for the six days to Sunday, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday, even as crematoria faced increasing demand.

China has narrowed its definition to classify deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving pneumonia or respiratory failure caused by COVID, surprising global health experts.

“It’s not medicine, it’s politics,” Jutard-Bourreau said. “If they are dying now with COVID, it is because of COVID. The death rate is now political numbers, not medical numbers.

Additional information from the Beijing Press Room. Edited by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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