Over the past week, millions of Chinese have been worrying about the safety of friends and relatives trapped in Hubei and Wuhan. Most suspect that Chinese censors have been blocking some of the more dispiriting details of the crisis, and many believe the real number of deaths and confirmed cases is higher than the government has disclosed.
And as the US, UK, Japan and other governments work to evacuate their citizens from the city, fewer reporters are daring to venture out to the hospitals in Wuhan where teams of overwhelmed healthcare workers are fighting along the front lines of the virus.
Amid the media blackout, the government in Beijing has enlisted the WHO to help assuage the worries of a skeptical public that has already been exposed to videos depicting what appear to be bodies piled up in hospital corridors.
Recently, one self-styled 'citizen journalist' traveled to Wuhan to try and document the situation on the ground. What he discovered was even more alarming than he had feared: By quarantining the city, the government in Beijing had basically condemned the people of Wuhan to battle the virus on their own.
Hospitals are so overwhelmed, that people with obvious symptoms of the virus are still being turned away. Some severely ill people have been forced to visit five or six hospitals before being accepted for testing and treatment.
Residents who don't live within walking distance of a hospital treating virus victims have few options. Each district reportedly only has four volunteer taxis picking up patients and bringing them to the hospital to be tested. Streets are closed, and public transportation has been shuttered. So if patients cant' get a taxi, they might be stuck walking many miles to a hospital.
Even more alarming: Hospitals in Wuhan have struggled with dire shortages of testing kits. Some only have ~100 kits per day, dramatically slowing the process of confirming new cases of the virus. It's just the latest sign that the true number of infections in China is much higher than the numbers that have been released by the government.
Twitter user @You_Shu_China took the video from the anonymous citizen journalist, who said he's being targeted by local authorities who are trying to silence him.
"I'm afraid," the anonymous journalist says. "Behind me is disease. In front of me is China's legal and administrative power...I'm not afraid of dying. Why should I be afraid of you, Communist Party?"
The below video has English subtitles (users must remember to click the "cc" button):
Read the translated text below:
Btw, this is a very rough translation, I’ve reorganised the flow a bit, as he jumps around, & I’ve also missed things out etc. I’ve kept him speaking as “I” etc. I think it was recorded yday (29 jan). With those caveats.
"This video is a bit long. Usually I do short videos for WeChat etc. I’m in Wuhan, this is my 6th day. My name is already a 'sensitive word', so I can’t put anything on Wechat. Don’t put any of my videos on Wechat, or your account will be frozen. Mines already been frozen.
In the first few days, I’ve been to a few hospitals, been working with some volunteers, been to some markets. Yesterday, I went to the Sixth People’s Hospital. A lot of doctors there have been reported to have gotten ill. But doctors won’t accept my interview.
They’ve all been told not to do interviews. Even some have their phones taken away, we think. We know that eight doctors were arrested before (in Dec).
Some volunteer groups are helping deliver stuff (to patients in) hospital. I joined them for a bit. They’re really tired. People don’t believe in the China Red Cross. So people send donations, lots of small parcels, have been sent direct to the hospitals.
But they need sorting out, it’s really inefficient work, and hospital staff don’t have time. Volunteers are helping with that. I was also at Huashenshan Hospital. Lots of staff are working 24 hours. No rest. Sleeping 2-3 hours a day.
Most people are shut up at home; if you don’t have transport its really hard to get to the hospital. And if you go, some people are not getting checked. Each area (jiedao) is only allocated 4 taxis, that’s 4 taxis per 1000s+ people.
If you need a taxi, you have to call the district management; it’s impossible to get one. So if you don’t have a car, you have to walk to the hospital – but Wuhan is huge, so many people don’t go to the hospital. Call 120 for an ambulance – but there aren’t enough.
Taxi drivers in the middle of Dec, they already knew there was a serious disease. Why cant they say its SARS? It’s just as serious as SARS.
The Wuhan Police haven’t even apologized now (for arresting people talking about SARS).
I tried getting tested at a hospital to see what the process was like. They asked me questions and told me to queue for testing. I went with a patient to Tongji Hospital. Lots of patients had been to multiple hospitals. I was genuinely scared.
The corridors in the out-patients department were all full of beds, lots of people were breathing with masks and oxygen tanks. In the corridors. They had to be seriously ill.
Dr said we need to select which patients to do the test on. There are only I was told 100 or several hundred test-kits per hospital per day. There aren’t enough, so doctors need to select those to check. So some people have been to 5-6 hospitals trying to get tested.
All hospitals say they don’t have spare beds. I’m really scared now. People are scared. I’m envious of CCTV, they’re safe when they do interviews, they’ve got all the clothes/kit. I can’t go onto the wards, so I’m just in the outpatients dept. I just have a mask and a coat.
I thought of contacting Caixin journalists. No other media is here. But they don’t take my messages. I heard a HK journalist was still here,I was excited to talk to him. But when I contacted him, he said the last 5-6 days he’s been at the hotel, his HQ told him not to go out.
No one (ie journalists) is going to the front-line at the hospitals. I’ve mostly been in the hospitals the last 5-6 days. I’m really scared. I feel under a lot of pressure. I’ve got some breathing problems, maybe it’s the mask. Only one guy knows where I’m living.
The most important thing is they lack testing kits. They lack other things too, masks etc. Qingdao Public Security called me, asked me where I was. They asked me to chat. They asked my parents to talk.
I’m afraid. In front of me is disease; Behind me is China’s legal and administrative power. But as long as I’m alive I’ll speak what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard. I’m not afraid of dying, why should I be afraid of you, Communist Party.”
Notably, SCMP reported Thursday that the Supreme People's Court in Beijing has ruled that authorities should have tolerated messages posted about the illness in a group chat, even if they were not completely accurate. Wuhan officers were found to have wrongly punished a group of people in a messaging group sharing information about the illness.
Of course, there's still plenty of evidence that Beijing is still obscuring the true extent of the outbreak.
Rare decision by #China top court that gets at Beijing transparency over virus. Court ruled #Wuhan medical workers accused by police of spreading rumors due to online chat about SARS-like illness were mistreated. China signaling wants locals to share info. https://t.co/XRQu9w1TUA— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 30, 2020
We reported earlier that frustrated Chinese have been defying the government censors: "We gave up our rights in exchange for protection," one Weibo user wrote in a post. "But what kind of protection is it? Where will our long-lasting political apathy lead us?"