- Throughout the crisis, reports, videos, and staff themselves have showed the scale of the problem: supplies and protective gear are scarce, and the workload is enormous.
- As many as 1,000 medical staff have themselves caught the virus while treating it. Several have died.
- On Thursday, 34-year-old Li Wenliang, who helped first raise the alarm about the virus and was punished for it, was confirmed dead.
- These are the sacrifices that China's medical workers have made, and continue to make.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .
Thousands of Chinese doctors volunteered for the front line of the coronavirus outbreak. They are overwhelmed, under-equipped, exhausted, and even dying.
The hard and dangerous work of battling China's coronavirus epidemic is mainly being done by its medics many of whom live nowhere near the affected areas.
Doctors and medical staff are feeling the toll of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus more than anybody except their patients.
As of Friday morning local time the virus, named after its epicenter in the city of Wuhan, had killed 635 people and infected nearly 31,000. As many as 1,000 of those infected were medical staff.
Some workers who contracted the disease have died. More still are working in almost impossible conditions, without the protection or resources they need to control an epidemic. Here is the situation on the ground:
Doctors in Wuhan, which was placed under a sweeping quarantine on January 24, have been faced with far more patients than they can handle.
Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images
Around the time the quarantine began, one doctor told BBC News : "The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven't seen so many before.
"I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming."
Early in the outbreak, scientists had not yet realised that the virus could spread from human to human. During that time, many doctors didn't wear protective gear.
China has relatively few doctors per capita compared to countries like the US, and those it does have are less well-trained.
According to Business Insider's Aria Bendix,China has less than two physicians for every 10,000 residents .
Only around 60% haveundergraduate degrees and only about 10% have graduate degrees, a radical difference from in European and North American health systems.
Wuhans medical staff were soon overwhelmed. In response at least 6,000 medics from other parts of China were sent in, despite the risks.
These images show military medics volunteering to go to Wuhan:
On January 29, Business Insider's Will Martin reported that China had had deployed 4,130 medics from other parts of China to Hubei province, which contains Wuhan.
It was in the process of increasing the figure to 6,000, according to the country's National Health Commission.
Even with enough doctors, many hospitals were desperately short of supplies. This included protective gear for the medics.
Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
"Many were not initially informed about the potential for people-to-person transmission, and even now we don't have enough protective gear, test kits, and other supplies," one Wuhan doctor told the South China Morning Post on January 24.
There were also too few testing kits for patients, making it very hard to distinguish a coronavirus case from any other flu or cold.
Patients in Wuhan came to consider getting access to a testing kit as being like winning the lottery .
Some hospitals have been pleading for donations of supplies from ordinary people. A social media post from The Wuhan Children's Hospital, cited by the BBC , said simply: "Medical supplies are in short supply - help!"
Some staff complained on social media that hospitals were even running out of food and drink .
Wuhans hospitals also lacked beds. On January 23 China announced it would build two totally new hospitals to cope. One opened on February 2, the second on February 6.
As the outbreak has dragged on, China has pledged to commit even more people and resources. But there are still difficulties.
A New York Times article dated February 6 cited reports of shortages at a makeshift quarantine facility in Wuhan.
It said that an exhibition center, converted to house patients, had inadequate heating, unreliably electricity, and evident shortages of medical staff and equipment.
The Times report said that Chinese authorities are becoming more militant about stifling criticism of its response, making it harder to work out which places have shortages.
The stress medical workers are under has been enormous.
This video shows one medical worker having a meltdown:
The unidentified doctor at the Wuhan No. 5 Hospital made an exasperated call to a supervisor, not long before the Lunar New Year.
He said he had just done four days' worth of work without a break, according to The Washington Post .
"I don't want to do this job any more. Just fire me! Kick me out, send me back home," he said.
"Don't I want to go home to celebrate the new year? Don't we want to live, too?"
Working conditions have been desperate. Some doctors resorted to wearing adult diapers because they have too little time to even use the bathroom.
THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO /via REUTERS
The situation was also reported by The Washington Post .
The newspaper said that a second reason to use adult diapers was to avoid the delicate process of taking off a hazmat suit, which could tear and ruin it.
Countermeasures took a physical toll. Medics hands were bleached from constant disinfectant, and the lines from face masks dug into their skin.
Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
The precautions do not always work. Posts on Chinese social media suggest that as many as 1,100 medical staff have caught the virus almost one in 30 of the total case load.
One doctor who contracted the disease locked herself in her apartment and didnt even tell her own family.
An unnamed doctors shut herself away because of an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, according to Beijing-based therapist Candice Qin, wjo described her case to The Washington Post .
"I think it is a strain for every doctor and every nurse in Wuhan, both physically and mentally," Qin told The Post. "We know that patients are worried, but we should bear in mind that doctors are just as human as well."
A seven-months-pregnant nurse who helped fight the outbreak also got infected.
The nurse ended up passing the disease to her 70-year-old mother.
There was no space for her in a nearby hospital, and the woman resorted to posting on social media to shame officials into admitting her.
Source: The Washington Post
However, probably the most keenly-felt loss in China was that of Li Wenliang, a doctor who died on Friday at the age of 34.
Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Li caught the virus while treating patients in Wuhan for weeks. He died around 4 a.m. local time on Friday .
His loss was all the more painful because Li had tried to raise awareness of the virus early on, but had been punished by officials who wanted to suppress the news.
In December, when the virus was just being discovered, Li alerted a group of alumni from his medical school.
But he was taken in by police in Wuhan and forced to sign a letter acknowledging he was "making false comments" about the burgeoning epidemic.
After his death, tributes to Li went viral on China's Weibo social media network, despite the strict censorship which the country often employs.
- The virus continues to spread rapidly.
- Read more:
- 6,000 medics are being called into Wuhan to fight the deadly coronavirus as the number of infected in mainland China outstrips SARS
- One image from Wuhan shows the sheer scale of trying to treat a city on lockdown, as Wuhan coronavirus spreads
- As the Wuhan virus spreads, doctors in the city say they face a 'flooding' of patients and not enough protective gear
- Wuhan, China, is scrambling to build a hospital in just 6 days to treat coronavirus patients as its health system gets overwhelmed
- Hospital staff in Wuhan are wearing adult diapers because they don't have time to pee while caring for an overwhelming number of coronavirus patients
- The US has confirmed 12 cases of the coronavirus across 6 states. Here's what we know about all the US patients.
- A pregnant mother infected with the coronavirus gave birth, and her baby tested positive 30 hours later
- The Wuhan coronavirus has spread to 26 countries. Here's how to protect yourself while traveling.
SEE ALSO: The Wuhan coronavirus has killed more than 630 people and infected nearly 31,000. Here's everything we know about the outbreak.
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