In hospitals across Wuhan, the city at the centre of the new coronavirus outbreak, there is panic and despair. Patients wearing masks queue for hours, waiting to be called by nurses. Staff who have worked endless shifts are forced to turn many away. Pharmacies are running out of supplies.
A lack of diagnostic tests means many people do not know for sure if their fever is the new strain of coronavirus, which has killed 26 people in China and affected more than 800.
Even reaching emergency wards is a struggle, following the shutdown of public transport in the city, which has been placed in complete lockdown. The roads are mostly deserted, and taxi drivers, fearing infection, are refusing to pick up patients from hospitals.
About 10 people got off a high-speed train that pulled into Wuhan on Friday afternoon but nobody got on before it resumed its journey. “I need to be with my family,” said one passenger, dragging two large cases out of the station.
Footage that appears to have been taken inside medical facilities, and shared on social media, shows staff unable to manage the huge influx of people. In one clip, a patient lies on the floor of a crowded room, apparently having fainted. In another, a woman wearing a face mask cries out for help, saying: “I have a fever.” It is not possible to verify the videos.
“Patients are all anxious and worried,” said Ms Zhang, a nurse in Wuhan, who is pregnant, and who is herself receiving treatment for a low fever.
Her elderly mother is believed by doctors to have the new coronavirus, but she has not been given a diagnostic test. Her mother was previously given injections at an outpatient department and sent home. Despite trying several hospitals, none were able to offer a bed.
Zhang fears her father could also become ill, as he has developed a fever after visiting the hospital with her mother.
On Thursday, she waited for hours to receive treatment herself, and was eventually given an anti-inflammatory injection but told supplies of cephalosporin had run out.
After speaking to the head of department for infected medical staff, she was able to get a bed. “I am a nurse myself, it’s difficult to get myself a bed, for normal people it would be much more difficult. The situation is the same in other hospitals in Wuhan, I heard from friends and relatives who are working in other hospitals here,” she said.
On the outskirts of Wuhan, diggers and bulldozers have begun work to build a new 1,000-bed hospital, which is due to open within days. Built on the site of a holiday complex once intended for local workers, it is expected to be similar to those established in Beijing in 2003, when the city faced a Sars outbreak that killed almost 800 people and reached nearly 30 countries.
Mr Huang, an architect, said his sister-in-law in Wuhan, who has had symptoms, struggled to get a diagnostic test – but eventually had one this week and got the all-clear. “Only when you are being isolated, and have severe symptoms, there will be a chance you can be tested,” he said. “There aren’t enough beds in hospitals.”
Another resident, who is British, told the Guardian he and his friends would be reluctant to go to hospital unless they were certain they had the disease. “It’s the number one place to catch it,” he said.
Healthcare staff are working flat out to try to treat patients, said Zhang. All staff have cancelled their spring break, she said, and are taking extended shifts.
In one video shared widely online, the strain placed on medical staff is clear. A doctor wearing a mask and protective googles, believed to be from Wuhan, can be seen breaking down as he speaks on the phone.
“Do you think I don’t want to go home? Do you think I don’t want to celebrate Chinese new year? … We are transferred to work in fever clinic, you think we don’t care about our own safety?” he says, as a colleague, also in protective equipment, tries to console him.