Doctors in China have described the chaos unfolding inside hospitals as COVID-19 infections sweep the country.
Three health professionals spoke anonymously to Sky News, painting a picture of emergency departments “full” with patients, “ventilators and oxygen machines everywhere” and “not enough IV beds”.
Strict Zero-COVID restrictions lifted just three weeks ago in China and the virus has been spreading rapidly.
But assessing the scale of the impact is difficult because precise numbers of cases and deaths are not published and speaking out carries great risk.
Despite this, some doctors spoke exclusively to Sky News and described how much pressure the system is under.
A doctor in the northern city of Shenyang explained how “our emergency room (ER) is packed with patients, dozens of times busier than usual.”
“It is not easy for the elderly to be admitted,” they said.
“There are not enough ambulances. There are fans and oxygen machines everywhere in the ER.
“There aren’t enough IV beds. Before we had a 1:4 or 1:5 doctor-patient ratio, now it’s more like 1:10.”
They also described the high mortality rate being seen, contrary to official figures which state that only a small handful of people have died from the virus in recent months.
a death of COVID-19 in China it is so strictly defined that on a normal day the authorities announce only one, two, three or even no deaths.
This despite the fact that an estimated 250 million people (18% of the population) have been infected with COVID in December alone, according to information leaked by sources close to the government.
What the doctor describes clearly questions the official figures.
“This wave of COVID is deadly for older adults, especially with underlying diseases and dysfunctions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart conditions,” the doctor said.
“For every 10 elderly patients with serious conditions admitted to the emergency room, about 50% die.”
‘A person must remain on duty for days’
Another doctor in Beijing spoke about the enormous pressures on hospital staff with so many patients arriving and many doctors and nurses also falling ill.
“There are not enough staff in the department as all the nurses have tested positive for COVID-19. Now a person has to stay on duty for several days,” the doctor said.
“Most, if not all, patients for follow-up visits and consultations have COVID or have recovered from COVID.”
A third doctor spoke of extremely long waits to see patients.
China announced on December 7 that it would move to “optimize” its COVID response and has since dismantled nearly all the rules and infrastructure that supported it, including remove quarantine and test rules for international arrivals.
But it has left the population of 1.4 billion exposed, as there is limited herd immunity and a large proportion of the elderly who are not fully vaccinated.
In addition, the health system is under-resourced and does not have enough intensive care beds.
While the spread in Beijing is projected to have peaked, the nationwide peak is not expected to come for another month or so and there are concerns about how smaller regional cities will cope.