Edited by: Fern Sidman
China’s health care system is struggling to cope with the surging number of patients infected by the deadly coronavirus despite that Chinese President Xi Jingping has re-emerged in public to call for greater confidence in his government, as was reported by VOA News.
The death toll Tuesday totaled 1,018 worldwide among the more than 43,000 confirmed infections; 974 deaths, or 96% of the total, occurred in Wuhan city, in China’s Hubei province — signs that hospitals in the epic center of the outbreak have been overwhelmed.
The latest report on the American Medical Association’s website found that out of the city’s 138 virus-infected patients 30% were medical professionals — an alarming rate that suggests the city’s medical system treating over 30,000 patients may be collapsing, Vincent Su, a thoracic surgeon in Taipei told VOA News
“It’s a vicious cycle that the more medical professionals infected, the less patients well-treated. With patients flooding in, the frontline [in Wuhan] appears to be broken. This is what we call a collapsing medical system,” Su said.
VOA News reported that with an overwhelming workload in hospitals, the number of patients in Wuhan is likely under-reported, the surgeon estimated. Others have postulated that the virus is even worse than anyone had ever imagined it would be with tens of thousands of residents in China having already succumbed to the deadly symptoms of the Coronavirus. If evidence of these claims do exist, they have not been released to the public. Spiked levels of sulfur dioxide emissions in Wuhan were recently used to suggest that tens of thousands of bodies might have been cremated, according to the VOA report.
China has added thousands of beds in some 15 shelter-like hospitals in Wuhan.
But many who checked in complained of a lack of medical care and isolation wards there to avoid cross infection.
“Fangchang shelters are for those who haven’t been severely infected. But my father is a highly suspected case who needs to be hospitalized for immediate treatment. Frankly speaking, home quarantine is probably better than going to those shelters,” he added.
The father of Ms. Lo, another Wuhan resident, is a confirmed patient and has no choice but to check into a Fangchang shelter soon.
“It’s arranged that he will first check into a Fangchang shelter. We were told earlier that he will be transferred to another hospital if his symptoms deteriorate. I’m not sure of the shelter’s condition since he hasn’t checked into,” Lo said.
VOA reported that while appearing in a public inspection tour in Beijing, President Xi pledged on Monday that “more decisive measures” will be taken to combat the epidemic amid criticism and suspicion that China has taken action too late and too little to stop its spread and under-reported its death toll.
“If a super spreader emerges to speed up contagion by ten-fold, China may be overtaken by the virus and further pushed into the hell of fire,” said Chen Bingzhong, a former health official.
Taiwan, on Sunday, confirmed its first asymptomatic patient with a high viral load, fueling worries that a super spreader may be on the horizon to worsen the outbreak, according to the VOA report.
Chinese state media reported Tuesday that Zhang Jin, the Communist Party boss of Hubei’s provincial health commission, and Liu Yingzi, the commission’s director, have been dismissed.
The firings come a day after another 103 deaths were reported in Hubei province, where millions remain under lockdown and people are complaining of food shortages. A total of nearly 43,000 cases across China have been confirmed by the central government.
VOA reported that President Xi Jinping visited coronavirus patients at a Beijing hospital Monday and called for “more decisive measures” to contain the outbreak, Chinese state television reports.
The World Health Organization officially named the virus COVID-19 on Tuesday, one day after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the spread of coronavirus between people who had no history of travel to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire.”
“In recent days, we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China,” he said, citing new cases in Britain and France.
The State Department said Tuesday it will permit non-essential employees and their families to voluntarily leave the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong “out of an abundance of caution related to uncertainties” about the coronavirus. The State Department made similar announcements last month for diplomatic staff in Chinese cities, including Beijing and China. U.S. consular employees were ordered last month to leave Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province.
VOA reported that Chen Qiushi, a 34-year-old lawyer-turned-video blogger was one of the most visible pioneers in a small but dogged movement that is defying the ruling Communist Party’s tightly policed monopoly on information, according to a VOA report.
Armed with smart phones and social media accounts, these citizen-journalists are telling their stories and those of others from Wuhan and other locked-down virus zones in Hubei province, as was reported by VOA. The scale of this non-sanctioned storytelling is unprecedented in any previous major outbreak or disaster in China. It presents a challenge to the Communist Party, which wants to control the narrative of China, as it always has since taking power in 1949, according to the VOA report.
Chen’s posts and vlogs, or video blogs, garnered millions of views — and police attention.
VOA reported that in an anguished video post near the end of his first week in Wuhan, he said police had called him, wanting to know where he was, and questioned his parents.
“I am scared,” he said. “I have the virus in front of me, and on my back, I have the legal and administrative power of China.”
His voice trembling with emotion and tears welling in his eyes, he vowed to continue “as long as I am alive in this city.”
“Even death doesn’t scare me!” he said. “So you think I’m scared of the Communist Party?”
Last week, Chen’s posts dried up. VOA reported that his mother broke the silence with a video post in the small hours of Friday. She said Chen was unreachable and appealed for help in finding him.
Later that evening, his friend and well-known mixed martial artist Xu Xiaodong said in a live broadcast on YouTube that Chen had been forcibly quarantined for 14 days, considered the maximum incubation period for the virus. He said Chen had been healthy and showed no signs of infection.
On Sunday, Xu tweeted that despite pleading with authorities for a call with Chen, he and others haven’t been able to get in touch.
“It’s very different from anything we have witnessed,” said Maria Repnikova, a communications professor at Georgia State University who researches Chinese media.
Never have so many Chinese, including victims and health care workers, used their phones to televise their experiences of a disaster, she said, according to the VOA report. That’s partly because the more than 50 million people locked down in cities under quarantine are “really anxious and bored and their lives have pretty much stopped.”
Britain declared the virus a “serious and imminent threat” to public health after reporting four new cases Monday, bringing the number of confirmed British cases to eight. Health Minister Matt Hancock’s declaration gives the government more power to isolate people to keep the virus from spreading.
China’s central bank is making $43 billion available to help businesses involved in fighting the epidemic.
The death toll from the coronavirus is higher than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03, which is believed to have killed 774 people and sickened nearly 8,100 in China and Hong Kong.
President Trump said Monday he expects the coronavirus outbreak to disappear in April because of the warmer weather. “The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,” he said.
Health experts say the spread may ease in warm weather when people get out of doors and are not in such close contact with each other. But this is a new strain of coronavirus and some of the experts believe it is too soon to say if spring and summer will kill it off.
Meanwhile, the Chabad-Lubavitch organization has reported that as the deadly coronavirus continues to advance, the number of people under quarantine has also been growing. It now includes 15 to 17 tourists from Israel being kept aboard a crowded cruise ship outside Tokyo; a Jewish businessman from Haifa living in the epicenter of the virus; and a Jewish woman and her daughter from Northern California still on hold at an Air Force reserve base far from home outside of Los Angeles.
According to a Chabad report of February 9th, among those whose lives have been severely disrupted by what has been deemed by the World Health Organization as an emergency global health crisis are up to 17 Israelis who are among 3,700 passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship stalled under quarantine in Japan’s Yokohama Harbor.
Whether aboard the ship or in other areas of the world where the virus is spreading, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries are striving to provide those in need with kosher food, emotional sustenance and advice, protective masks and whatever else they need while taking their own precautionary measures, according to the article on their web site.
“I am in touch with them on a daily basis, and we sent them wine and challahs for Shabbat,” Rabbi Mendi Sudakevich, who co-directs Tokyo’s Chabad center with his wife, Chana, told Chabad.org about the situation aboard the ship. “We can’t really do much else. They are locked on the ship. They can’t go out, and we cannot go in. I went over there to speak with the government officials [overseeing the quarantine] to bring them the challahs and the wine and, Baruch Hashem [thank G d], it worked out.”
Chabad reported that none of the Israeli citizens is believed to be among 64 people on the ship who have tested positive as of Sunday for the virus. All of the infected have been removed from the craft and taken to Tokyo treatment centers, the Israel Foreign Ministry and Tokyo health officials said.
Concerns about the virus being spread through the ship’s ventilation system were quelled by the Japanese government, which said the virus is not transmitted airborne and instead through cough droplets or sneezes directly passed from person to person, or that can be picked up after landing and sticking on surfaces. Cruise ships are viewed as particularly vulnerable as thousands in close quarters embark and disembark in many ports of call. A man aboard the ship who tested positive for the virus upon disembarking in Hong Kong prompted a two-week quarantine of the ship on Monday as it entered the harbor.
In Shanghai, Rabbi Shalom Greenberg co-director of Chabad of Shanghai and other volunteers from the Jewish community went from house to house on Sunday in various neighborhoods of the city to distribute surgical face masks to the elderly and the sick in a bid to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. And in Beijing, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Beijing spent much of the day on the streets of the city handing out masks donated to Chabad to grateful passersby.
(Chabad & VOA)