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.

Wuhan coronavirus
  • 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 .

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:


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.

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.


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.


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"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 .



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.

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?"



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.


Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images


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Xiong Qi/Xinhua/AP


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."

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty


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.


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.

See Also:

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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