A doctor treating victims infected with the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan has died from the virus amid signs that the area’s health system is struggling to cope with the outbreak.
After announcing the death of 62-year-old doctor Liang Wudong on Saturday, state media said that 1,200 extra medical personnel were being sent to Wuhan to ease the burden on overwhelmed local staff.
Liang worked at the Hubei Xinhua hospital in Wuhan and was the first known fatality among staff treating patients in the city, which is under lockdown along with at least a dozen other cities in Hubei state.
The official death toll stands at 41 with 1,287 people infected.
Liang’s death highlighted the pressure faced by medical staff in the state as social media was flooded with posts showing exhausted workers struggling to cope.
One photo circulating showed a sign on a glass door entrance of Wuhan Fourth hospital that read: “Medical staff infected. All appointment cancelled!”
Others posts tell of doctors and nurses working without much food or rest under poorly ventilated contamination suits. Another posting showed a local effort of 4,000 volunteer drivers who have been helping distribute supplies around the city to hospitals and medical staff.
The outbreak has dampened lunar new year celebrations in Wuhan and across the country. With restaurants, markets and parks closed, public gatherings banned and public transport suspended, many people have chosen to stay home.
Elsewhere, the Great Wall has been closed along with Disneyland in Shanghai, where all cinemas have been closed.
The extra staff sent to Hubei included 450 military medics with experience of battling Sars and Ebola, state media said, who arrived in Wuhan on Friday night.
As the extra personnel moved into hospitals, work continued on the construction of an emergency 1,000 bed facility for virus sufferers. It is hoped it will be completed by the first week of February.
The chaos in cities under lockdown across Hubei has led to shortages of virus testing kits and face masks. There is growing anger within Wuhan that authorities did not do enough in the initial days of the outbreak to determine the extent of the spread of the virus, with misdiagnosis due to limited testing kits, lack of staff and space for patients rampant.
One victim, Xia Qianqing, 36, told how she went to hospital in early January after feeling sick but was told her condition was not serious enough. She later came down with fever and was admitted to the hospital but discharged since beds were needed for critical patients.
“The fever clinics at major hospitals are currently only treating those in critical condition who need to be transferred to other hospitals to for testing, and in the process there’s a serious shortage of testing kits,” she told the Guardian, adding that the situation had improved since central government took responsibility for responding to the crisis away from state authorities.
In Jingzhou, a city just west of Wuhan also under lockdown, Wang Xin, visiting for the new year holiday from Shenzhen, told the Guardian that he was about to leave the city but started to feel sick on Friday and has now been told to isolate himself at home for 14 days.
Wang said the situation in Jingzhou appeared to be better that in Wuhan and that there were few people at the hospital when he visited early on Saturday.
“The drug store was out of antibiotics, but they gave out five free masks to everyone and you can buy the N95 masks [supposedly best for preventing transfer] at the normal price, which might mean that mask supplies are coming back,” he said.
Markus Tietäväinen, 33, a language student at Wuhan University, was scheduled to fly back to Finland on Thursday when the travel ban hit and is now holed up at the campus, mainly waiting around with other foreign students since most Chinese students are away on holiday.
“They have started measuring our body temperatures at the dormitory entrances and are keeping one of the canteens open for those who are still on campus,” Tietäväinen said.
“No one really knows what is going on or how long this will last,” he said. “I have to admit that I’m not actually worried about the disease itself, it is more the isolation and I had holiday plans and now they are all gone. I have to stay here for who knows how long.”