200 patients a day and adult nappies: What it's like working on the coronavirus frontline.

Feature image: CNN/Twitter

Doctor Li Wenliang was accused of rumour-mongering.

He was among the first in Wuhan to raise the alarm about the deadly novel coronavirus back in December, posting in a group chat of his medical school alumni group that seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a ‘SARS-like’ illness.

But he was reprimanded by police for doing so.

In the early hours of Friday morning, 34-year-old Li died from the very virus he tried to warn authorities about. There have been contradictory reports about Li’s death, with some still reporting he is critically ill. However, China’s biggest newspaper People’s Daily, has confirmed the doctor passed away at about 6am AEST. As has the BBC citing confirmation from the hospital that was treating him.

Li spoke to The New York Times not long ago and told them, “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency”.

563 people have been killed since the virus spread, with more than 28,000 people infected.

WATCH: Australians have been evacuated from Wuhan and sent to quarantine on Christmas Island for 14 days. Post continue after video.

Video via Seven

But as the virus snakes its way into other countries around the world, including here in Australia where we have 14 cases, the worst of the deadly virus is being felt in the place where it began: Wuhan, China.

The health care system there is straining to serve even the basic needs of patients, as they are inundated with sick residents while their city remains in lockdown.

The New York Times reports thousands of people have to stand in line for hours at all times of day and night to secure appointments with doctors. When they do get an appointment, patients get only a couple of minutes with a doctor.

On an average day, a doctor is seeing some 200 patients.

Videos have circulated on Chinese social media showing what that actually looks like – with doctors straining to handle the enormous workload as they are photographed collapsed in exhaustion in hospital corridors loaded with patients, some of whom appear to be dead.

Business Insider reports some are even wearing diapers because they don’t have time to go to the toilet. If they take their Hazmat suits off in a rush and rip them, there are at risk of not being able to get another new one due to a lack of supplies.

It’s not worth the risk.


One doctor at a Wuhan hospital told BBC News there had been “an alarming rate of spread” and those treating the disease are putting their own lives at risk. They were told in January “to not go to work at the hospital, because of the risk of the virus spreading,” the doctor added.

On social media they’ve been dubbed “heroes” and “warriors in white”.

“They’ve been fighting for us. They’ve been battling the virus. They are parents, they are also daughters and sons,” People’s Daily wrote.

Photos of the markings from protective face masks- showing in a way that words can’t – the long hours these people are pulling.

One young doctor even died from exhaustion.

28-year-old Song Yingjie was assigned to a local expressway inspection team in the Hengshan county and worked 10 days straight before dying from a sudden cardiac arrest in his room. The Shangahiist reports it was caused by exhaustion and overwork.

Their families are terrified.

Parents separated from their children are air-hugging them from behind boundary lines, and husbands and wives have been photographed in tears as their spouses are called into infection zones to help.



Anger, fear and anxiety is rife.

Doctors, already under enormous pressure, are dealing with terrified and enraged patients and family members.

One relative of a patient infected with the virus even beat up a doctor at a hospital in Wuhan, state broadcaster CCTV reported yesterday.

The man was accused of pulling and damaging the doctor’s mask and protective clothing – potentially exposing him to the virus.

But there’s anger amongst medical professionals too, with reports out of China showing government officials in Wuhan appearing to take face masks intended for health workers battling the highly infectious virus.

The Guardian reports the juxtaposed images of medical staff making protective equipment out of rubbish bags and raincoats has caused an uproar on social media.


There are also accusations of theft being levelled at one city, accused of intercepting another city’s shipment of supplies.

Medical supplies bound for Chongqing – a municipality with 400 cases – was reportedly taken by the government of Dali – a city with only eight confirmed cases according to state media.

On Thursday, Chinese government agencies announced plans to issue subsidies of up to AUD $64 per day to front-line medical workers and to reopen factories to boost production of medical supplies and protective gear to help curb the growing supplies crisis.

An entirely new 1000 bed hospital has also been finished in Wuhan after a 10-day build, with a second almost finished.

China rushes to build a new hospital in Wuhan
Dozens of diggers work to build a new hospital in Wuhan, China on January 25, 2020. Image: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

The Chinese military is sending in its own medical staff to populate it and hopefully take some of the pressure off exhausted Wuhan doctors.

Construction only started on the hospital on January 23, now it spans 60,000 square metres and two floors.

At the moment, those infected with coronavirus aren't being treated with a treatment specific to the virus, because there isn't one yet.

They're using a handful of repurposed drugs, like ones used for Ebola and HIV, as the race for a vaccine approved for use continues.

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