Residents of crisis-hit Wuhan at the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak have described scenes reminiscent of ‘doomsday’ as China locks down the capital as it to struggles to contain the disease that has already infected nearly 1,300 people.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the emergency, 450 military medics were deployed to help treat patients in the central city, where a seafood and live animal market has been identified as the centre of the outbreak.
Today, when they should have been celebrating the Lunar New Year, people waiting at one hospital in the city were angry and frustrated.
‘It takes at least five hours to see a doctor,’ one woman, who didn’t want to be named, said.
Medical staff members wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, walk at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan
In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan’s health care system, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city previously announced that construction of a hospital of the same size was underway and expected to be completed February 3 (pictured, medics at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital)
The world’s most populous country scrambled to contain the disease that has already infected nearly 1,300 people, building a second field hospital to relieve overwhelmed medical facilities and closing more travel routes as the country marked the Lunar New Year holiday (pictured, residents bulk buy supplies amid the outbreak)
One man in his 30s said some people had to queue for two days.
Another resident, Xiaoxi, 36, said she had spent the past week taking her sick husband from hospital to hospital in a desperate attempt to get him tested for the virus.
She told the South China Morning Post: ‘I have nothing. No protective clothing, only a raincoat, and I am standing outside the hospital in the rain,’ said the woman, who gave her name as Xiaoxi.
‘I am desperate, I have lost count of time and days. I don’t know if we will both live to see the new year.’
It came as millions of Chinese people around the world ushered in the Lunar New Year, marking the start of the Year of the Rat. But in Wuhan, streets remained on lockdown.
Xiaoxi said that Lunar New Year’s eve felt like ‘doomsday’ as there was nowhere for her and her sick husband to go in the city.
Wuhan authorities will race to build a second new hospital within a fortnight, state media reported, adding 1,300 new beds.
They have already begun building a new field hospital to deal with the outbreak, which state media said could be ready in just over a week.
Wuhan went one step further Saturday, announcing vehicle use including private cars would be banned in downtown areas starting after midnight, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted after that, the reports said (pictured, medics at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital)
The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China, but fresh cases are popping up. Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China (pictured, medics at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital)
Official news agency Xinhua said the two new hospitals in Wuhan would be similar in size to the temporary facility that was built to tackle SARS in Beijing in 2003, when 650 people died from the disease in the mainland and Hong Kong.
The medics, who arrived on military aircraft late Friday, include doctors with experience combating SARS or Ebola and will be dispatched to hospitals that are reportedly short on beds due to a crush of infected patients and worried locals.
The country’s most important celebration has been all but cancelled for at least 56 million people as authorities expanded travel bans across central Hubei province to try and contain the spread of the virus.
On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan, police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to exit the city.
‘Nobody can leave,’ an officer said.
But the police allowed some medical workers who had gone home for the holidays to re-enter the city to help at crowded hospitals.
‘They need us to go there, otherwise they will be too exhausted,’ said one of the women, pulling a suitcase.
The government says most of the cases have been in Hubei and most of the deaths involved people who already suffered pre-existing health conditions.
Underscoring fears that the virus could spread further, Beijing will suspend long-distance bus service entering and leaving the capital of 20 million people from Sunday due to ‘requirements of epidemic prevention and control,’ the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.
The National Health Commission also ordered nationwide measures to detect and isolate people carrying the virus on planes, trains and buses across the country.
Distressing video has emerged showing a doctor collapsing on the floor as footage revealed the full scale of panic inside Wuhan hospitals, with crowded corridors and patients slumped on the floor. Video shows staff shouting at patients to calm themselves as medics desperately try to contain the situation. Some workers are reported to be wearing diapers as they don’t have time to use the toilet amid the panic
Xinhua said Saturday that temperature screening checkpoints have been set up in 387 railway stations across the country.
Meanwhile, tourists from Hubei in Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan, were told by the city government they had to spend 14 days in a hotel for centralised medical observation, and were forbidden to leave.
Foreign citizens were set to be evacuated from the virus-hit Wuhan within the next few days.
Residents in Wuhan were stocking up on masks, gloves and disinfectant.
‘Everyone is just trying to protect themselves,’ said a man in a surgical mask at a busy pharmacy.
But the man expressed confidence in the Communist authorities.
‘The government is handling this. It’s not a problem.’
The virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The new virus has now infected people nationwide and in nearly a dozen other countries, with France saying three cases were confirmed there – the first known European infections.
Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall are among many attractions that have closed as a precaution. China’s film box-office earnings for Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday were just one-tenth of last year as people shunned crowds.
‘Usually we celebrate as a family. Now, because of the virus I’m not even visiting my parents,’ said Wang Fang, a 49-year-old Wuhan native.
‘It’ll be great just to be able to make it through (the outbreak).’