China’s leaders expanded a mass roundup of people possibly sickened with the coronavirus on Thursday, widening their dragnet well beyond the epicenter of the outbreak to at least two more cities in what the government has called a “wartime” campaign to stamp out the epidemic.
But the campaign, first announced last week in the city of Wuhan, already has been marred by chaotic conditions that have isolated vulnerable patients without adequate care and, in some cases, left them alone to die.
The expansion of the decree to “round up everyone who should be rounded up” in the Wuhan area of central China has deepened the nation’s anxiety.
In their zeal to execute the edict, officials in Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million, have haphazardly seized patients who have not yet tested positive for the coronavirus, in some cases herding them onto buses with no protective measures where they risked infection from others, their relatives said.
After that, patients have been sent to makeshift medical facilities that don’t provide the support they need to recover. With little to no dedicated medical staff on hand to help, some patients die.
One woman was abruptly carted off to a quarantine facility and prohibited from retrieving her supply of heart medication, her daughter-in-law said. A man said he was getting sicker and sicker in his hotel room, but there were no doctors and he was not allowed to leave.
Another man placed in a makeshift shelter fell into a coma for two days, but his family said they couldn’t get him admitted to a hospital. He died.
Despite the upheaval, the mass roundup extended beyond Wuhan to include other cities in central Hubei Province that have been hit hard by the outbreak. The state-run CCTV news broadcaster said the expanded area included the cities of Huanggang and Xiaogan.
A sudden spike in new cases could make the situation worse. Officials in Hubei Province announced Thursday that they had expanded the criteria for counting new infections to include diagnoses by doctors based on a chest scan and symptoms, rather than a more complicated test. The tally from the outbreak surged as a result, with the province adding nearly 15,000 cases and 242 deaths in a single day.
The surge continued Friday, although not as markedly, when Hubei officials disclosed about 4,800 new cases and 112 additional deaths.
The rise in confirmed cases, to more than 52,000 overall in the province, could overwhelm an already burdened health care system, which faces a shortage of hospital beds and medical supplies.
The problems are likely to compound the public outrage over the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the most serious health crisis to afflict China under President Xi Jinping. Local officials played down the virus in the early days, while the eventual lockdown of Wuhan cut the city off from critical supplies and resources.
In a sign of an aggressive effort by Xi to contain the political and economic damage of the epidemic, the Chinese Communist Party on Thursday fired the leaders of Hubei Province and Wuhan.