China’s Covid-19 cases overwhelm hospitals

IN MORE than three decades of emergency medicine, Beijing-based doctor Howard Bernstein said, he has never seen anything like this.

Patients are arriving at his hospital in everincreasing numbers; almost all are elderly and many are very unwell with Covid-19 and pneumonia symptoms, he said.

Bernstein’s account reflects similar testimony from medical staff across China who are scrambling to cope after China’s abrupt U-turn on its previously strict Covid policies this month was followed by a nationwide wave of infections.

“The ICU is full,” as are the emergency department, the fever clinic and other wards, he said. “A lot of them got admitted to the hospital. They’re not getting better in a day or two, so there’s no flow, and therefore people keep coming to the ER, but they can’t go upstairs into hospital rooms,” he said.

“They’re stuck in the ER for days.” In the past month, Bernstein went from never having treated a Covid-19 patient to seeing dozens a day. “The biggest challenge, honestly, is I think we were just unprepared for this,” he said.

Sonia JutardBourreau, 48, chief medical officer at the private Raffles Hospital in Beijing, said patient numbers are five to six times their normal levels, and patients’ average age has shot up by about 40 years to over 70 in the space of a week.

“It’s always the same profile,” she said. “That is most of the patients have not been vaccinated.” The patients and their relatives visit Raffles because local hospitals are “overwhelmed”, she said, and because they wish to buy Paxlovid, the Pfizer-made Covid-19 treatment, which many places, including Raffles, are running low on.

“They want the medicine like a replacement of the vaccine, but the medicine does not replace the vaccine,” Jutard-Bourreau 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 around a decade, fears that the worst of this wave in Beijing has not arrived yet. Elsewhere in China, medical staff told Reuters that resources are already stretched to the breaking point in some cases, as Covid-19 and sickness levels amongst staff have been particularly high.

One nurse based in the western city of Xian said 45 of 51 nurses in her department and all staff in the emergency department have caught 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 are down with it.” Wang and nurses at other hospitals said they had been told to report for duty even if they test positive and have a mild fever. — Reuters

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