Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

A woman who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection, is disinfected by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel for a 14-day quarantine after being discharged from a hospital in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on March 1, 2020.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The explosive spread of a virus in China’s Hubei province has now killed more than 2,900 people. But that death toll doesn’t include Fang Heshun. And the list of the sick – more than 80,000 confirmed cases with COVID-19 in the province – doesn’t include Chen Guangcai, Wang Bin or Gong Qunxin.

Each confronted serious illness: cancer, leukemia, a tumour. And each has struggled to get care as health authorities converted hospitals, hotels, stadiums and conference centres to respond to the virus, leaving little room for people needing other forms of medical intervention.

Even now, as authorities in China claim partial victory over the virus – sending people back to work, releasing plans for the reopening of schools, releasing numbers that show a slowing in new virus cases – many of the seriously sick in Wuhan have been unable to find hospital beds. Some have died.

Story continues below advertisement

The stresses on health provision in China stand as a warning to other parts of the world, where the sudden expansion of the outbreak in South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy and elsewhere has begun to pinch health-care systems. Epidemiologists have warned that the speed with which COVID-19 can spread means that the best response requires a rapid allocation of health-care resources.

Ontario reports four new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus

Quebec couple who got coronavirus on cruise ship to come home, daughter says

In Wuhan, at the epicentre of the virus, that has meant dedicating hospitals to the outbreak and evicting those already admitted for other purposes. In recent days, Hubei, the province where Wuhan is the capital, has seen a decline in numbers of new cases, and governments have ordered more attention be paid to patients with other illnesses.

Yet even those who have successfully petitioned for help have struggled to get suitable care from the overburdened health-care system.

Doctors diagnosed Fang Heshun with kidney cancer in 2018. But in October, 2019, he felt discomfort. Doctors discovered that tumours had spread into his lungs and his brain and began radiation therapy at Tongji Hospital, a university-affiliated institution that is one of the best in Wuhan. He was scheduled for another treatment Jan. 31.

But with the virus outbreak, they could not access care at Tongji. Mr. Fang was sent instead to Hanyang Hospital, a local institution that could administer medicine but not radiation.

”Before he went to Hanyang, he could walk, talk and eat. But after just one week, he was half-paralyzed,” his daughter, Fang Fang, said. Desperate for help, she posted information on the Twitter-like Weibo service about his case. Hours later, members of her parents’ community committee – part of China’s government system of local control – reached out to offer help. They got in touch with higher levels of government, and city health-committee representatives responded.

But, they said, with the continued virus outbreak, some of Tongji’s own doctors were in isolation. Her husband, too, contracted COVID-19 when he went to the hospital to buy medicine for her father. Ms. Fang and her mother-in-law were then infected. They’re now living in isolation.

Story continues below advertisement

And Mr. Fang died Feb. 25.

His daughter says she believes another round of radiation could have extended his life. “The disease is serious, so we never expected another five or 10 years. But if all of this hadn’t happened, he should have lived at least another year or two. The tumour wouldn’t have developed this fast,” Ms. Fang said.

His death, she said, was “too fast, faster than the withering of a flower.”

Others have been left to their own resources. In Xiaogan, a city in Hubei, Gong Qunxin needs white blood cell reduction apheresis, a specialized leukemia treatment that is available only in Wuhan, about 50 kilometres away. “The doctor said his condition is ‘dangerous and urgent,’ ” said Wen Wei, the sister-in-law of Mr. Gong’s son.

The hospital in Xiaogan offered the family a pass to drive on locked-down roads and a medical transfer authorization. But they “made it clear to us that instead of putting all of our hope in them, we could use our own resources and networks to get beds in more professional hospitals,” Ms. Wen said.

For most of the week, the family had no success. They made hundreds of calls, but found out only through friends that Wuhan hospitals won’t accept Mr. Gong. The hospitals themselves had no response. (The Globe and Mail called Tongji 10 times Friday, but no one answered). Meanwhile, Mr. Gong’s son walked two hours to the hospital to see him, since local transit is not operating.

Story continues below advertisement

Then, on Wednesday night, the family found another hospital in Wuhan willing to take Mr. Gong. With no beds, however, he spent his first night in a hallway. By Friday night, he had been placed in a ward – but in isolation, because even though a test for COVID-19 came back negative, he had previously run a fever. The family continues to fear for his health.

“I can’t say that I blame everything on government incompetence or a disparity in the allocation of medical resources. There’s nothing wrong with hospitals prioritizing the needs of coronavirus patients,” Ms. Wen said. “Sacrifice the small families for the sake of the bigger ones – that I can understand. But a life is a life. And even if my uncle is just one person, it doesn’t mean his life isn’t worth saving.”

Chen Zheling, too, has struggled to find proper medical care for his father, Chen Guangcai, who has been diagnosed with high bilirubin levels, although doctors have yet to confirm the cause. Mr. Chen’s wife is a nurse. His father worked in virus response. He himself is part of a local work squad securing food and necessities for the community.

They found a place for his father in a local hospital, which is “helping him stay alive.” But Mr. Chen has little hope of getting his father into a more sophisticated care facility in Wuhan.

“I just feel so hopeless, like the world has closed the windows in front of me and I can find no way in,” he said. “When you try everything, but keep being rejected, you will know what it feels like to have no place to go. That’s a feeling I’ve never experienced.”

For others, virus fears have denied treatment to people who exhibit symptoms common to COVID-19. Wang Bin is in an advanced stage of liver cancer that has left him feverish. His lungs, too, have shown signs of infection, an indication of the ravages of cancer. His temperature has been normal since November. It’s “not a coronavirus infection. Yet the hospital kicked us out because they said no one with any lung infection could be allowed in,” said Wang Cheng, his son.

Story continues below advertisement

Since then, Wang Bin’s health has been unstable. Earlier this week, he became unresponsive for a few hours, mumbling and slipping in and out of consciousness at home. His family can do little but hope that he will, with the help of pills they have purchased through an app, survive the outbreak.

“I can say that the coronavirus in Wuhan has without a doubt made things worse for my family. Because of the lack of effective treatment, you can say that my father is fighting against cancer with his weakened body,” Wang Cheng said. But compared with other cancer patients, his father “is lucky, because he is still alive.”

With reports from Alexandra Li

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies