Chinese Citizens Report Worsening Spread of Virus, as Officials Hint at Severity of Crisis

A medical worker (R) rests in a chair next to a patient at a hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo)
BY NICOLE HAO

Chinese citizens say that the new coronavirus outbreak is spreading quickly to other parts of the country outside the epicenter of Wuhan City, capital of Hubei Province.

Residents in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing report that hospitals are filling up with patients. They believe the situation is far worse than Chinese authorities portray, and that they are not disclosing the true number of infections and deaths.

Authorities claim that the virus has infected thousands in mainland China and killed scores of patients. However, experts believe actual numbers are likely far greater.

Meanwhile, local governments are still scrambling to contain the virus with emergency measures.

The central Chinese city of Wuhan admitted to a new viral pneumonia outbreak on Dec. 31, 2019, weeks after the first patient exhibited symptoms.

The virus has since spread to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and other countries.

Chongqing

Chongqing is just to the west of Hubei. The city has many transport connections to Wuhan, with a population of roughly 31 million, according to official statistics.

Prior to Wuhan authorities’ decision to implement a transportation lockdown, 30 high-speed trains ran between Chongqing and Wuhan every day, according to the Wuhan Railway Bureau. In the first 22 days of January, about 22,000 passengers flew from Wuhan to Chongqing, according to government statistics. Most other localities in Hubei have since also initiated lockdowns.

Chongqing locals told the Chinese-language Epoch Times by phone that the situation in their city is very severe.

Mr. Li is a pharmacist at a state-run Chongqing hospital.

He said many people from Hubei have arrived in Chongqing in past weeks. Most of them are either farmers who make a living in Hubei and live in rural areas of Chongqing, or wealthy Hubei people who have residences in Chongqing. They came to Chongqing after their cities were quarantined.

Li said it’s hard to tell the true number of people who have died from the virus in Chongqing. But at his workplace, a significant proportion of diagnosed patients need to be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). He surmised that far more people have died than what government authorities are reporting.

“The government data is hugely distorted,” he said in a Jan. 25 phone interview.

Mrs. Hong, a resident of Jiangbei district in Chongqing told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that she knew of a five-member family who recently returned to the area after visiting Wuhan. Four of them were diagnosed with the virus.

She also heard cases of people diagnosed with the virus who suddenly died at home, but their deaths weren’t reported on the authorities’ patients list. “The Chinese regime doesn’t take care about Chinese people’s lives,” Hong said.

Mr. Yuan, a resident of Nan’an district in Chongqing, said that ever since the government placed the city on lockdown on Jan. 25, people have been on edge. “I stocked enough food to last for two months,” he said.

‘Wartime’

Authorities in other regions are trying drastic measures to contain the disease.

On Jan. 28, China’s ministry of public security, which oversees the country’s police force, requested all police bureaus in the country to begin “wartime preparations,” meaning police must help each local government to “maintain social stability”—a euphemism for controlling public speech—and “control the disease.” Chinese authorities have detained netizens for spreading information about the illness online.

The health commission of Tianjin City, in the north of China, then announced that the city will start “wartime preparations.”

47 hospitals will set up a big general hospital, to be led by the commission. The agency will reorganize all medical staff in the city into 500 teams.

To date, all Chinese provinces and regions except Tibet have confirmed cases. To stem the virus, Tibet authorities closed all tourism sites in the region on Monday.

Virality

Feng Zijian, vice director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, indirectly admitted to the severity of the illness during a Jan. 28 interview that aired on state broadcaster CCTV. He said the new virus was spreading at a rate faster than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) during its peak.

The 2002 to 2003 SARS outbreak killed nearly 800 people worldwide after first emerging in southern China.

On the same day, Wuhan’s Civil Affairs Bureau posted on the city government’s official Weibo—a platform similar to Twitter—that the authorities would pay the cremation costs for any coronavirus patients who died, beginning Jan. 26.

“To improve the capacity of transporting and dealing with the bodies, the city government and Hubei Provincial Civil Affairs Ministry have dispatched vehicles, staff, and protective gear to each funeral house [in Wuhan],” the post said.

About an hour later, the post was edited, with the sentence about the new resources deleted. But many netizens had already screenshotted the post and began circulating it.

Meanwhile, the state-owned newspaper Xiaoxiang Morning Post reported about Hu Ming, the director of the ICU at Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital, on Jan. 28.

Hu told the newspaper that his ICU has been full of coronavirus patients since the beginning of January. In order to care for the patients, he and his colleagues have not slept at home.

Hu also said that one of his patients has infected more than 10 other people, including doctors and nurses.

A daily earlier, Yang Yunyan, vice governor of Hubei province, said that the whole province has arranged for an additional 100,000 hospital beds to accommodate coronavirus patients.

Estimation

Experts say actual numbers of infections are likely much higher than what Chinese authorities have disclosed.

Hong Kong University’s school of public health estimated that about 43,590 have been infected in Wuhan alone. The peak period of the virus would be April to June.

The study projected that the second most serious outbreak would be in Chongqing, with more than 150,000 new cases every day in April.

The research team estimated that as of Jan. 27, Chongqing has 145 to 570 potential infections, Beijing 72 to 260, and Shanghai 62 to 224—all higher than what authorities are currently reporting.

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