Officially, the Beijing government has announced seven deaths since opening up. However, health authorities say only coronavirus patients who die from respiratory failure, not other chronic illnesses, are counted as COVID-19 deaths.
Doctors and the public have provided a different picture amid criticism the government was ill-prepared and should have anticipated that relaxing the zero-COVID rules would lead to mass infection.
A department head in a top-tier hospital in Beijing who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said he conservatively estimated that 70 per cent of the healthcare workers and help from Shandong were helping out in the emergency and outpatient departments.
He had cancelled surgeries and outpatients for the past three weeks first because he was infected and then because of the lack of staff. But there remained an influx of patients who needed care and the hospital could not cope.
“No matter how renowned the hospitals are, they can’t meet the demand,” the doctor said.
A Beijing man surnamed Li said he saw two elderly people die when he took his grandfather to the fever clinic in Chaoyang Hospital for treatment this week.
“All of a sudden, a nurse shouted that a woman who was sitting in a wheelchair hadn’t moved for a while,” he said. “They gave her a shot of adrenaline, and after a while, when they were ready to give her another shot, a doctor said ‘It’s no use’ – it was already too late.”
Another Beijing resident who presented to the emergency room at Tsinghua Changgung Hospital on Wednesday night said she saw several elderly people with blood oxygen levels around 80 per cent, which is considered low and may compromise organ function, such as the brain and heart.
However, the witness said, there were no oxygen beds available and the nurse asked patients whether they really wanted to stay at the hospital, and all the while the phone at the front desk kept ringing.
There has been a raft of deaths of well-known figures in the city. Wang Ruoji, a former football player who spent five seasons with Shenyang Jinde team, died aged 37 of diabetes complications caused by a COVID-19 infection and famous opera singer Chu Lanlan, 40, died after contracting the virus.
On Tuesday, Wu Guanying, famed designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics mascot and professor at the Tsinghua University art school, died at the age of 67. His death was euphemistically reported by Chinese media as caused by a “severe cold”.
A recent study by the University of Hong Kong predicts there will be 1 million deaths if the mainland reopens without plans for a comprehensive fourth-dose vaccination scheme, sufficient antiviral drugs and social-distancing measures.
This article was first published on SCMP.