BEIJING, Dec 26 (Reuters) – In more than three decades of emergency medicine, Beijing-based doctor Howard Bernstein said he had never seen anything like it.
Patients flock to his hospital in ever-increasing numbers; Almost all are elderly and many are very sick with Covid and pneumonia symptoms, he said.
Bernstein’s account echoes similar testimony from medical workers across China, who are scrambling to cope with China’s sudden U-turn on its previously strict Covid policies this month, followed by a wave of nationwide infections.
It is the country’s biggest outbreak so far since the outbreak began in the central city of Wuhan three years ago. Beijing’s state-run hospitals and crematoriums are also struggling amid heavy demand this month.
“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,” he said, as are the emergency department, the flu clinic and other wards.
“A lot of them are hospitalized. They don’t get better in a day or two, so there’s no flow, so people come to the ER, but they can’t go upstairs to the hospital rooms,” he said. said. “They’ve been stuck in the ER for days.”
In the past month, Bernstein went from treating not one Covid patient to seeing dozens a day.
“The biggest challenge, honestly, I don’t think we’re ready for,” he said.
Sonia Juddart-Borrow, 48, chief medical officer at the private Raffles Hospital in Beijing, said the number of patients was five to six times their normal level, and the average age of patients had risen by about 40 years to over 70. week.
“Always the same profile,” she said. “That means most patients are not vaccinated.”
He said many places, including Raffles, were running short because local hospitals were “overcrowded” and patients and their relatives were visiting Raffles and they wanted to buy Boxlovit, the Pfizer-made Covid treatment.
“They want a drug that’s like replacing a vaccine, but a drug that doesn’t replace a vaccine,” Judard-Porreau said, adding that her group has strict criteria for when it can recommend it.
Jutard-Bourreau, who like Bernstein has been working in China for a decade, fears that the worst wave in Beijing is yet to come.
Elsewhere in China, medical staff told Reuters that resources are already stretched to breaking point in some cases because of COVID and disease levels among staff are particularly high.
A nurse based in the western city of Xi’an said 45 of the 51 nurses in her unit and all the staff in the emergency department had caught the virus in recent weeks.
“There are many positive cases among my colleagues,” said a 22-year-old nurse surnamed Wang. “Almost all doctors are down with it.”
Nurses at Wang and other hospitals said they were told to come to work 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 at her ward has dropped by more than 50 percent, which has stopped accepting new patients. She said she was working for more than 16 hours without adequate support.
“I worry that if the patient seems agitated, you have to control them, but you can’t do that easily,” he said. “It’s not a big situation.”
Death Rate “Politics”
Doctors who spoke to Reuters said they were most worried about the elderly, tens of thousands of whom could die, according to expert estimates.
More than 5,000 people die each day from COVID-19 in China, British-based health data firm Airfinity estimates, offering a dramatic contrast to Beijing’s official data on the country’s current outbreak.
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’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday there were no new COVID-19 deaths in mainland China for the six days from Sunday to Sunday, even as crematoria faced rising demand.
Raising eyebrows among global health experts, China has narrowed its definition to categorize Covid-related deaths, counting only deaths related to pneumonia or respiratory disease caused by Covid.
“It’s not medicine, it’s politics,” Juddart-Borrow said. “If they’re dying of Covid now, it’s because of Covid. The death rate now is political numbers, not medical.”
Additional report by Beijing Newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle
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