Yao Ruyan paced frantically in the industrial Hebei region of China, 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Beijing, in front of the county hospital’s fever clinic.
All the surrounding hospitals were filled, and her mother-in-law had COVID-19 and required immediate medical attention.
She yelled into her phone, “They claim there are no beds here.”
Emergency wards in small towns and communities southwest of Beijing are overburdened as China struggles with its first-ever nationwide COVID-19 wave.
Patients are slumped on benches in hospital hallways and lying on floors due to a scarcity of beds, while intensive care units are turning away ambulances and hunting for available beds for sick people’s relatives.
The coronavirus had caused Yao’s elderly mother-in-law to become ill a week earlier.
They went to the neighborhood hospital initially, where lung scans revealed pneumonia.
Yao was informed that the hospital was unable to manage severe COVID-19 cases. She was instructed to visit bigger hospitals in neighboring counties.
All the wards were packed as Yao, and her husband traveled between hospitals in their car.
The most recent letdown was Zhuozhou Hospital, an hour’s drive from Yao’s hometown.
Yao raced through wheelchairs that elderly patients in a hurry toward the check-in desk were pushing.
She was informed that the hospital was already at capacity and that she would have to wait.
Yao remarked, “I’m outraged,” breaking down in tears as she held the lung scans from the neighborhood hospital. I’m not very hopeful.
We’ve been outside for a while, and now that she’s having trouble breathing, I’m afraid.
Journalists from the Associated Press spent two days touring hospitals and crematoriums in towns and villages in the central Hebei province prefectures of Baoding and Langfang.
Following the state’s relaxation of COVID-19 limitations in November and December, the region served as the focal point of one of China’s earliest outbreaks.
The area was silent for weeks as many stayed home due to illness.
Now, many people have recovered. Even as the virus spreads to other regions of China, markets are humming, people fill eateries, and motorists honk in gridlocked traffic today.
Recently, state media said that the region is “beginning to resume a regular life.”
However, conditions in the emergency rooms and crematoriums in central Hebei are far but typical.
Many of Hebei’s elderly are deteriorating rapidly, even though the young are returning to work and the wait times at fever clinics are shortening.
They are taking over funeral homes and intensive care units, which may signify things to come for the rest of China.
Since restrictions were drastically lifted on December 7, the Chinese government has only acknowledged seven COVID-19 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 5,241.
A Chinese health official claimed on Tuesday that China’s official COVID-19 death toll only includes cases of pneumonia or respiratory failure, a strict definition that leaves out many cases that other countries would ascribe to COVID-19.
According to experts, between a million and two million deaths are expected in China through the end of the year, and a top official of the World Health Organization cautioned that Beijing’s counting method will “underestimate the genuine death toll.”