The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and, to a lesser extent (hmmm we wonder why?), the Washington Post are all seemingly racing to write the most critical stories about Beijing's nightmarish mass quarantine that left 400 million on lockdown as the situation in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, deteriorated to unimaginably nightmarish levels.
In a sweeping report, WSJ, one of the first mainstream media organization's to question China's numbers, chronicles the struggles of several regular people in Wuhan who suffered from a critical flaw: When they went to get tested for the coronavirus, their tests repeatedly came back negative, despite them having obvious symptoms of pneumonia.
This arbitrary classification, undoubtedly adopted by some foolish and shortsighted bureaucrat, caused many to suffer as hospitals refused thousands of patients with serious symptoms. Some may have even died in their homes, unbeknownst to the government and their terrified neighbors.
The piece begins with Zhu Chunxia, a 36-year-old mother with severe pneumonia, who was left waiting on the side of the road after a facility refused to take her because she tested negative, despite her doctor confirming obvious signs of pneumonia.
Coughing badly, Zhu Chunxia sat on a sidewalk in the rain on Monday, awaiting transport to a facility where her apartment complex’s residential committee said she could be treated for the new coronavirus sweeping through this central Chinese city.
The ride never came. Though her doctor was almost certain she was infected with the virus, a throat-swab test she had taken came back negative, which meant the facility wouldn’t take her.
"They said we didn’t qualify," said the 36-year-old mother of two girls. "They wanted positive results."
Her case is hardly unique. In fact, researchers at Imperial College in London estimated that only one in every 19 infected people in Wuhan has been tested, meaning that roughly 1 million people - possibly more - might be infected in Wuhan alone.
The terrifying possibility that the already overwhelmed Chinese healthcare system is missing a huge number of patients with probably mostly mild symptoms is especially worrying since the virus appears to have the ability to spread "silently" - i.e. before the infected start displaying symptoms. Many doctors at Chinese hospitals are petitioning the regime to use chest scans to diagnose patients instead of swab tests, which have been found to be extremely unreliable.
Since private healthcare isn't really a thing in China thanks to their socialist system, once patients are rejected by the government hospital, they have no choice but to return home and try to beat the pneumonia on their own, or at least until they can prove they're infected.
This has led to financial hardship for some.
Chinese hospitals have focused on treating confirmed patients, often neglecting those who can’t prove they have the virus. People who are misdiagnosed sometimes return home, get more sick and infect others around them. Some return to clinics for additional testing, heightening the risk of being further exposed to the virus.
There is also a financial burden for those who suffer from the virus without testing positive for it.
Wang Hongyan, whose husband tested negative despite a lung infection, said her family paid 10,000 yuan ($1,430) for medical care and were unable to receive the subsidies granted to confirmed coronavirus patients.
"Right now there are a lot of fake negatives," said Ms. Wang. "You come to the hospital and 90% of the people around us are like this."
One patient was only seen by a hospital in Wuhan after he fell into a coma and his wife paid for someone to rush him to the hospital.
When 57-year-old Weng Wanjin fell into a coma at home, his wife, Hu Lihua, found someone to rush him to a hospital. Scans showed a serious lung infection but the test didn’t detect the virus. Tests came back negative, even though he definitely had the virus.
"When we got the first result, the doctor said it was impossible," Ms. Hu said. The doctor recommended they get a second test. Two days later, on Feb. 7, the results confirmed the doctor’s suspicion.
As WSJ explains, the threat swap tests could be false negatives even when they're done correctly. Sometimes, when an individual's infection is centered in the lower part of the chest, the swab simply doesn't extend long enough to pick up infected material.
China has been struggling with dire shortages of medical equipment, including tests for the new virus. More than 100 companies in the country are working on producing more tests - but if the market is flooded with inaccurate tests, what good is that?
Perhaps President Xi and his ruling cohort in Beijing are simply hoping the outbreak will run its course or a vaccine will be developed before the international community calls out its lies?