Wuhan coronavirus: doctors say ‘flooding’ of patients, not enough gear

  • A doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan said that thousands of patients are waiting for hours to see doctors, though doctors have been advised not to come into work for fear of catching the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
  • The unnamed Wuhan doctor spoke to the BBC and discussed what conditions are like for medical staff in the city under lockdown.
  • The doctor told BBC News that the actual number of infected people “is probably higher” than what has been reported. 
  • Another unnamed doctor told the South China Morning Post that the outbreak among medical staff was due to a lack of information and protective gear.
  • As of Friday morning, the disease has infected more than 830 people and killed 25 others.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan said that thousands of patients are waiting for hours to see doctors.

The doctor at a Wuhan hospital told BBC News that there has been “an alarming rate of spread” of the deadly novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, over the last two weeks in the city.

BBC News declined to identify the doctor in order to protect her identity. 

The new coronavirus can pass from human to human, and it has infected 830 people and killed 25 as of Friday morning.

As a precaution, the entire city of Wuhan, as well as other nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine against the disease, affecting about 23 million people.

The doctor told BBC News that scores of citizens have lined up at Wuhan hospitals in panic.

“The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before,” the doctor said. “I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming.”

wuhan hospital

Hospital staff wash the emergency entrance of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

AP Photo/Dake Kang

The doctor told the BBC that many people have to wait for hours before they can see a doctor, and little information is available to the public yet because of the novelty of the disease.

The doctor added that the typical incubation period of the virus is about seven days, meaning that many people can pass along the illness without showing symptoms.

“Screening is difficult because of the one-week incubation period — people may be travelling without realizing they have the virus. That means the actual figure of people infected is probably higher,” the doctor said. 

This is a major concern for doctors on the frontlines of fighting the disease. 

“It is spread through human-to-human transmission and there are also medical-staff infections,” the doctor told the BBC.

“We were told two days ago not to go to work at the hospital, because of the risk of the virus spreading,” the doctor added.

Wuhan China Virus

Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital on January 17, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China.

Getty Images

The doctor is not alone in concerns that the actual toll of the disease is higher than what has been reported. 

The quick-spreading virus has fueled concerns that the Chinese government may attempt to cover up the severity of the disease as it did in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, which resulted in 774 deaths across at least 30 countries.

As of Friday, there were 15 reported cases of medical staff being infected by the disease in Wuhan. But doctors told the South China Morning Post they believe the true figure is much higher. 

Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation told SCMP doctors and nurses at medical centers and hospitals in Wuhan were being infected at a quicker rate than reported. One source said the outbreak among medical staff was due to a lack of information and protective gear.

“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 SCMP.

Mimi Lau, a reporter for SCMP, said that there has been a shortage of quick test kits for the coronavirus, which is reportedly delaying diagnosis. She added that patients at Wuhan hospitals likened getting a hold of the test kits as “winning lottery tickets.” 


“Definitely more than 15 medical workers are infected,” they said to the Post. The doctor also told the Post that at least one dormitory at a Wuhan hospital is being used to house quarantined medical staff alone. 

According to SCMP, the province of Hubei’s health commission confirmed on Tuesday that five medical workers in Huanggang were also infected with the illness.

But as authorities try and tackle the illness, those inside the city anxiously wait. 

“I fear this is going to get worse and worse,” the doctor told the BBC. “Everyone is stuck here and can’t leave.”

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