Patients in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the heart of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic say they are still struggling to get crucial medical care, as access to hospitals is being controlled by local officials.
Residents of Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, say many people are still unable to get tested or treated, although the rise in new cases appears to be slowing somewhat.
Chinese movie director Chang Kai and three members of his family all died of COVID-19 after they self-quarantined at home, The Guardian newspaper reported.
It said Chang had been forced to take care of his father, who was the first to contract the virus, at home after he couldn’t find an open hospital bed for him.
The news emerged as the authorities said 74,188 COVID-19 cases were confirmed throughout mainland China as of Wednesday, with 1,921 deaths in Hubei alone.
Wuhan residents have continued to post SOS messages to social media platforms, saying they are stuck at home with suspected infections in their families, and no beds in the city’s hospitals.
A resident surnamed Bao said there are too many barriers for most people to get tested or treated.
“There is a huge shortage of beds,” Bao said. “You can’t go directly to the hospital; you have to report to your neighborhood office [if you are sick], and they decide whether or not to let you go to hospital.”
“It depends on the situation, but you can still get admitted if you know someone,” he said. “My father is a civil servant. Someone from the [municipal] health commission sought him out and he was eventually able to go to the hospital.”
Xu Wu, a former worker at state-owned Wuhan Iron and Steel who escaped from a psychiatric institution in 2011 after being sent there by the authorities, said his father’s experience had been much tougher.
“He didn’t get a bed in hospital until I posted something to social media,” Xu said. “You can only get treated in a hospital if the neighborhood committee arranges it,” he said.
“If there are no beds you just get to die at home. My father went to the hospital, and they said there were no beds, and that the neighborhood committee would have to arrange it,” he said.
“The neighborhood committee said there was nothing they could do. My father didn’t get into a hospital until I posted something online,” he said.
He said people who do go to hospitals to seek treatment or diagnosis are often left waiting a long time.
“You have to line up for ages to get a scan if you go to the hospital, but it’s very quick if the neighborhood committee arranges it,” Xu said. “As for that newly built prefab hospital, you only get to go there if the government says you can.”
“There is no rule of law when hospital resources are scarce.”
Bao said local people are unable to move freely around the city any more.
“The residential compound is sealed off,” he said. “You need a pass to get in and out.”
“You can go out to buy food once every three days, but you cannot leave your home for more than two and a half hours,” he said. “You are not allowed to drive on the roads unless you have a pass.”
“Even if you can get out of the community, it is difficult to get to a hospital without a car,” he said.
He said there were large numbers of people who fell sick after a Lunar New Year banquet in Wuhan’s Baibuting neighborhood who have been prevented from getting diagnosed, after widespread public criticism of the decision to go ahead with the event when the epidemic was already under way.
Photos posted to social media from Wuhan showed some supermarket shelves standing empty, while there were distress calls from children left without food or supplies after their parents got sick, died, or were taken to isolation wards.
Elsewhere, local authorities have been rolling out social distancing measures, including a ban on the perennially popular social game of mah jong in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing.
A short video posted to social media showed four people in Chongqing shouldering a mah jong table and walking down the street. The description said they were being forced to hand in their table at the local police station after being fined for playing the game in spite of a local ban, then caught playing it again in spite of the earlier punishment.
Officials walk behind them, shouting “Mah jong and card games are banned during the epidemic” through a megaphone.
(Reported by Han Jie and Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.)
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