Photos: How COVID roils small Chinese towns | Coronavirus pandemic News

As China grapples with increasing cases of COVID-19, emergency wards in small cities and towns southwest of Beijing were overwhelmed. Intensive care units (ICUs) are turning away ambulances, relatives of sick people are searching for empty beds, and patients are sprawled on benches in hospital corridors and on the floor. for lack of bed.

Small towns and cities in Baoding and Langfang districts, in central Hebei province, were the epicenter of one of China’s first outbreaks after the state eased coronavirus control measures in November and December. For weeks, the area was quiet as people fell ill and stayed home.

Many have now recovered. Today, markets are bustling, diners crammed into restaurants and cars honking loudly in loud traffic, even as the virus is spreading in other parts of China. In recent days, headlines in state media have said the area is “starting to return to normal life”.

But life in emergency wards and crematoriums in central Hebei province is far from normal. Even as young people return to work and the number of people queuing at fever clinics shrinks, many elderly people in Hebei are falling into critical condition. As they overwhelm ICUs and funeral homes, it could be a harbinger of what’s to come for the rest of China.

The Chinese government has reported only seven deaths from COVID-19 since restrictions were significantly eased on December 7, bringing the country’s total to 5,241. On Tuesday, a health official said China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official death toll from COVID-19, a narrow definition that excludes many deaths from COVID-19. may be caused by the disease elsewhere.

Experts have forecast between 1 million and 2 million deaths in China next year, and the World Health Organization warns that Beijing’s counting will “underestimate the true death toll”.

At Baoding No. 2 Hospital, in Zhuozhou, on Wednesday, patients gathered in the corridor of the emergency ward. Others are breathing with the help of respirators. A woman cried after doctors told her a loved one had died.

At Zhuozhou crematorium, furnaces burned overtime as workers struggled to cope with a spike in deaths over the past week, according to an employee cited by the Associated Press news agency. A funeral shop worker estimated 20 to 30 bodies were cremated each day, up from three to four before COVID-19 precautions were eased.

At a crematorium in Gaobeidian, about 20km south of Zhuozhou, the body of an 82-year-old woman was brought from Beijing, a two-hour drive away, as funeral homes in the Chinese capital had already opened up. packed with people, according to this woman. grandson Luong.

“They said we had to wait for 10 days,” said Liang, giving only his last name because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Liang added that Liang’s grandmother was not vaccinated when she showed symptoms of the corona virus and spent the last days of her life attached to a respirator in the Beijing ICU.

Baigou New Area Aerospace Hospital is quiet and orderly, with empty beds and short lines as nurses spray disinfectant. Staff said COVID-19 patients are isolated from others to avoid cross-contamination. But they added that severe cases are being transferred to hospitals in larger cities, because of limited medical equipment.

The lack of ICU capacity in Baigou, which has about 60,000 residents, reflects a nationwide problem. Experts say health resources in China’s villages and towns, home to some 500 million of China’s 1.4 billion population, are far behind big cities like Beijing. and Shanghai. Some counties lack an ICU bed.

As a result, patients in critical condition are forced to go to larger cities for treatment.

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