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‘We have no beds, we have no oxygen’: Covid overwhelms Beijing’s hospitals

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‘We have no beds, we have no oxygen’: Covid overwhelms Beijing’s hospitals

Hospitals in Beijing are being overwhelmed by elderly patients sick with covid just weeks after China abandoned its tough coronavirus containment measures with little preparation for the wave of outflow now sweeping the country.

Emergency rooms have run out of cots for patients, the sick are waiting hours for ambulances, and many doctors are too sick with Covid to work. Some facilities are so overloaded that they are running out of oxygen connections for people with respiratory problems.

“We don’t have beds, we don’t have oxygen and we have a room full of sick people waiting,” said a health worker at the emergency room at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, who has already packed extra cots in a hallway and waiting room. .

Beijing’s health system was long thought to be among the best prepared in the country to deal with a surge of Covid infections. But the central government’s decision this month abruptly abandon its draconian zero-Covid policywhich had kept the disease at bay for nearly three years through mass testing and quarantines, has sparked one of the largest covid outbreaks in the country.

The influx has created a bottleneck in the capital’s emergency rooms in particular, according to conversations with a dozen medical professionals at five central Beijing emergency rooms, who declined to give their names or asked not to be identified.

“All the doctors are unemployed, we have nowhere to send patients because other departments don’t have enough doctors,” said a neurologist on call at Beijing Friendship Hospital.

“The ER is overcrowded with patients; it’s taking us much longer than usual to move them forward,” she said, coughing through her face mask. She and other doctors recovering from Covid were sent in first to support the ER, she said.

Staff remove a body from the emergency room at Chaoyang Hospital, Beijing
Staff remove a body from the emergency room at Chaoyang Hospital, Beijing © FT

Overcrowded emergency rooms are leaving ambulance crews with nowhere to put the many bedridden patients they bring in, delaying rescue vehicles at hospitals and leaving families in need of help at home waiting for hours.

“The problem is that we cannot get out, we have a long backlog of people waiting for us but we are forced to wait here because there are no beds, the elderly cannot get off our stretcher, we cannot throw them on the ground,” said a doctor outside the emergency room of Chaoyang Hospital.

Inside the ER, a 90-year-old woman with Covid who had brought in the ambulance kit was lying on the stretcher in the van, with an IV drip in her arm. “We waited three hours for an ambulance, other hospitals didn’t accept us at all,” her son said, declining to give her name. “We’ll take her home once we have the medicine,” she said.

But six hours later, the ambulance stretcher was squeezed between the cots and the woman hooked up to oxygen. A doctor in the hospital’s intensive care unit said it was also full.

Doctors from Beijing Chaoyang Hospital and Friendship Hospital said they were transferring patients to overflow rooms at Beijing Chaoyang Integrative Medicine, a purpose-built emergency facility. By Tuesday, it was also nearing capacity.

“We have doctors, but we don’t have beds,” said a nurse in a hospital ward. A doctor in another ward full of elderly Covid patients said he hoped to fill the last available bed soon. An adjacent “emergency observation room” had been converted into a makeshift morgue. FT reporters saw six bodies inside on Tuesday.

China has officially reported an increase in Covid-19 deaths of just six since December 3. Most analysts believe the true number is likely to be dramatically higher as the coronavirus infects tens of millions of people for the first time. China’s top health officials said on Tuesday that they had they changed the way count deaths from Covid-19, excluding a large number of coronavirus-related deaths.

Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, estimated that it had taken the Chinese capital, with a population of 22 million, about two weeks since it loosened Covid controls to reach its peak of infection.

“The latest omicron variants are so transmissible and because of the lack of mitigation measures as well, it really spreads faster than anything we’ve seen before,” he said, noting that little appeared to have been done to slow the spread and flatten the spread. curve.

“Even spreading the cases out over a week or two could make a difference, because you have more time to deal with things and when all the serious cases come in at the same time, that’s the worst case scenario,” he said.

That is the situation unfolding in Beijing. The city’s hospitals are tense even as residents who have recovered from Covid begin to slowly return to offices and restaurants.

“We couldn’t find a hospital bed. The wards were completely overwhelmed and understaffed,” said the relative of a man in his 80s who died at his Beijing home over the weekend. He said doctors had advised the grandfather not to get vaccinated because of his underlying health conditions.

The city has done a better job of keeping the coronavirus out of its nursing homes, which since mid-September have been ordered to close to the outside world. Five Beijing nursing homes visited by the FT remained under strict lockdown. The employees, who were not allowed to leave, were also spraying any supplies that came in with disinfectant.

“We haven’t had any cases because we basically have no contact with the outside world,” the manager of Zhaohe Elderly Care in southeast Beijing shouted from behind a door. He said 37 Beijing elders were staying safe inside.

Chaoyang Hospital and Beijing Friendship Hospital referred questions to the Beijing Health Commission, which did not respond to a request for comment.

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