Hospitals overcrowded in China’s Covid wave

Covid-19 coronavirus patients rest at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing, December 23, 2022. (Photo by Noel CELIS / AFP)

China is battling a wave of infections that has hit older people hard, but has officially recorded just a handful of deaths from the coronavirus after the government redefined the criteria by which Covid deaths are counted.

At No. 5 People’s Hospital in Chongqing, the main entrance lobby had been converted into a makeshift Covid ward during a visit by AFP on Friday.

In the huge atrium, about a dozen beds, containing mainly elderly patients with IV fluids, were cordoned off with red and white tape.

In a nearby room, about 40 patients, mostly elderly and middle-aged, were sitting on sofas and lying on beds receiving IV fluids, some coughing.

A nurse said they all had Covid.

In an intensive care unit next door, three people lay on beds with ventilators and heart monitors attached.

An elderly man was wheeled in on a stretcher, coughing and struggling to breathe.

Around 50 people were queuing in the emergency room for triage, including Covid patients, with one person at the front of the queue telling AFP they had been waiting for more than an hour.

The emergency room at another medium-sized hospital in downtown Chongqing was also overcrowded, with about 30 elderly people hooked up to IVs squeezed between beds and chairs.

Some were breathing through ventilators and some had pulse oximeters on their fingers.

A cleaner and nurse at the first hospital told AFP there have been multiple deaths every day since the government’s sudden decision earlier this month to lift health restrictions and end mass testing.

It was not clear if all of the deaths were related to the virus.

– ‘Died Too Fast’ –

On Thursday evening, AFP visited a crematorium south of the city and witnessed 40 bodies being unloaded in two hours.

Relatives of several of those who died said the deaths were due to Covid.

A woman said her elderly relative, who was suffering from cold symptoms, tested negative but died after being unable to get an ambulance in time.

A woman in her 20s told AFP she suspects her father may have died of Covid despite not having been tested.

“He died too soon on the way to the hospital,” she sobbed. “He initially had lung problems … He was only 69.”

Under China’s new definition of Covid deaths, only those who die from respiratory failure are counted – and not from pre-existing conditions made worse by the virus.

That means many of the dead in Chongqing — and across the country — aren’t even being registered as coronavirus victims anymore.

In the first hospital’s intensive care unit, the cleaner told AFP on Friday that it was mainly the elderly who were dying.

He pointed to where a bed had recently been and said, “Look, that old man in there just died.”