Chengdu, China – On January 20, Fubin’s father started coughing and running a fever. As residents of Wuhan, they knew about a deadly new coronavirus that had originated in the central Chinese city weeks ago, but decided to stay home and hope the symptoms would subside.
Four days later, when his father’s body temperature soared to 40 degrees, Fubin rushed him to hospital.
Together they headed to the Wuhan Union Hospital but, at reception, they were turned away. They were told they had to go to one of seven hospitals the government had designated for fever patients.
The two men went to Wuhan Red Cross Hospital, one of the designated facilities, and found the line of people waiting to get checked was so long they would have to wait outside – potentially for hours – in the cold and rain. They decided to try their luck elsewhere.
The second and third hospital were both packed. It took Fubin two days to get his father admitted to Wuhan No 5 Hospital, and he is one of the lucky ones.
Coronavirus: Life under lockdown in Wuhan
As thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fever patients who fear they might have caught the novel coronavirus that has now killed more than 100 people rush to Wuhan’s hospitals, the outbreak is testing China’s healthcare system on a scale not seen since the country was hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, 17 years ago.
“The response from the government has been utter chaos,” said a nurse who works in Wuhan and preferred not to disclose her name. “The current healthcare system was completely unready for a situation like this.”
The nurse works at one of the designated hospitals, treating victims of a virus that has already infected nearly 10,000 people.
“You would think the government and hospitals had learned something from the SARS outbreak and prepared ourselves for another emergency like this,” she said angrily over the phone. “But no – they learned nothing.”
Most Chinese go straight to hospital when they are sick, leading to huge queues for treatment [cnsphoto via Reuters]