Chinese leaders on Thursday expanded a mass gathering of people at risk of coronavirus, widening their crisis zone far beyond the epicenter of the epidemic to at least two other cities in what the government has called a "wartime" campaign to end the epidemic.
But the campaign, first announced last week in Wuhan city, has already been marred by chaotic conditions that have isolated vulnerable patients without adequate care and, in some cases, left them alone to die.
The extension of the decree to "gather all who should be gathered" in the Wuhan region of central China has heightened the nation's sense of anxiety.
In their zeal to carry out the edict, the authorities of Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million inhabitants, randomly seized patients who have not yet tested positive for the coronavirus, in some cases, led them to buses without any protective measures where they risked being infected by others, said their relatives.
After that, patients were sent to makeshift medical facilities that did not provide the support they needed to recover. With little or no dedicated medical staff to help, some patients die.
A stepdaughter was brutally taken to a quarantine center and prohibited from recovering her heart medication, said her stepdaughter. One man said he was getting sicker in his hotel room, but there was no doctor and he was not allowed to leave.
Another man in a makeshift shelter fell into a coma for two days, but his family said they could not get him admitted to the hospital. He is dead.
Despite the upheaval, the mass rally has spread beyond Wuhan to include other cities in central Hubei province that have been hit hard by the epidemic. the state-run CCTV news broadcaster said the wider area included the cities of Huanggang and Xiaogan.
A sudden spike in new cases could worsen the situation. Hubei province officials said on Thursday that they had expanded the criteria for counting new infections to include doctors' diagnoses based on a chest scan and symptoms, rather than a more complicated test. The epidemic count has increased as a result, with the province adding nearly 15 new cases and 000 new deaths in a single day.
The surge continued on Friday, but to a lesser extent, when Hubei officials revealed around 4 new cases and 800 additional deaths.
The increase in the number of confirmed cases to approximately 52 across the province could overwhelm an already overburdened health system, which faces a shortage of hospital beds and medical supplies. Even before the new figures were released, many residents had slipped through the cracks.
Wuhan resident Peng Andong, 59, had been suffering from persistent fever and lung infection for days when his local neighborhood committee told him to go to a makeshift quarantine site last week.
Mr. Peng and his family were informed that there would be doctors at the quarantine site, as well as test kits so that he could obtain the official confirmation necessary to receive appropriate treatment. For example, on February 5, Mr. Peng boarded a bus full of sick patients - none wearing protective gear - and was taken to a hotel converted to an isolation center.
For several days, Mr. Peng regularly sent messages to his relatives, informing them of the stormy conditions inside the hotel.
"He said it was really chaotic the first few days and there was no food or medical staff there," said his son Peng Bangze. Others described similar conditions in interviews and calls for help posted on social media.
Deng Chao, 30, said that although doctors told him he almost certainly had the coronavirus, he had not yet received the official results of the test necessary for hospital admission.
Instead, he was sent to a hotel in Wuhan, where he has been in government-imposed quarantine for almost a week. Now, he said, he was getting sicker and more difficult to breathe. He said that security guards were posted at the entrance to the hotel to prevent patients from escaping - and that there were no doctors or drugs.
"It's really like a prison," said Mr. Deng.
"Send me to the hospital, please, I need treatment," he said, between two coughs. "There is no one to take care of us here. "
These problems are likely to worsen public outrage at the government's response to the coronavirus epidemic, the most serious health crisis that hit China under President Xi Jinping. Local authorities minimized the virus at first, while the possible foreclosure of Wuhan cut the city off of essential supplies and resources.
The global reverberations of the coronavirus crisis have shown no signs of slowing down.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States said on Thursday that a person quarantined at a military base in San Antonio had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the United States to 15 .
The Chinese government's campaign to lock up people in makeshift medical facilities in Wuhan started earlier this month, as it became clear that patients were infecting family members after being quarantined at home. Desperate officials hastily made plans to convert stadiums, exhibition centers, hotels and schools into temporary medical centers for thousands of people who could not be admitted to hospital.
Confirmed coronavirus patients with mild symptoms were placed in large converted spaces. Suspected cases have been isolated in hotels and schools requisitioned. The close contacts of confirmed cases and patients with fever who could have been infected were also placed in separate rooms. Some confirmed cases with severe symptoms have been transferred to two newly built hospitals dedicated to the treatment of patients with coronavirus.
Despite some complaints about the scarcity of toilets and experts' concerns Regarding the potential for cross-infection, some patients in such places are generally satisfied with the conditions and are relieved not to be at home where they feared to infect relatives. Images broadcast from inside the centers show patients dancing and lying in beds, playing on their phones. One patient was even photographed reading Francis Fukuyama's “Origins of the Political Order”.
But in many cases, the effort seems disjointed and disorganized. A rapport According to the official Xinhua news agency, due to the "limits" of certain quarantine sites, sometimes two or three suspect patients were housed in the same room.
Another Xinhua rapport explained in detail how community workers doing door-to-door checks should talk to neighbors and check for clues like hanging up laundry to make sure every household in Wuhan was counted. Even the Global Times, the nationalist party newspaper, reported about the frustrations of a public bus driver who tried in the middle of the night to gather people suspected of having infections.
Patients and their families have complained about the deplorable conditions, especially in places where patients need isolation and medical care.
On February 8, just two days after her husband was admitted to the hospital for a coronavirus, doctors told Ma Xilian, 59, that she probably also had it, based on a chest scan. and symptoms. He was told to report immediately to a designated quarantine site for isolation. Her requests to go home to get her heart medicine were denied.
In converted hotel where Ms. Ma was sequestered for days before she finally got a hospital room, there were no doctors, drugs, or even water, according to a cry for help published by her daughter-in-law on Chinese social media, one of many similar calls for help that have surfaced online in recent weeks.
"Where did your feelings for people go? She wrote, lambasting local government officials. “Where have your governance capacities gone? "
Some say that the lack of medical care in makeshift quarantine centers has only made their illnesses worse. For some families, bad conditions are the worst news.
Peng Bangze, whose father was sent on a crowded bus to a converted hotel for solitary confinement, remembered his visit last Saturday after his father had been inaccessible all day.
He found his father in a comatose condition alone in his room.
Panicked, he called for help. When the ambulance arrived, the driver and the hotel attendant refused to help him take his father, a construction worker, into the vehicle for fear of being infected, said the son. An hour later, the son learned that the hospital did not have a bed for his father and that he would have to go home and wait.
Two days - and numerous phone calls - later, Mr. Peng's relatives finally received a call from the local government informing them that a hospital bed had been set up. But when Mr. Peng's son arrived at the hotel to assist with the transfer, his father was lying face down on the bed, lifeless, in the same position he had left him.
The isolation workers had no explanation. They disinfected the room, the father's body was removed for cremation, and the son recovered his belongings.
"I don't know how it happened," said the son. “Everything happened in a few days. How could he be suddenly gone?
Albee Zhang and Zoe Mou contributed to the search for Beijing.
This article appeared first (in English) on NEW YORK TIMES