Coronavirus Patients Pose New Risks

It’s not understandable on how patients are screened or even treated in China’s standby wards, or how long they are to remain.

Credit…China Daily/Reuters

As the new coronavirus  keeps spreading unabated within the city of Wuhan, China, government officials last week imposed draconian measures.

Workers in protective gear were instructed to go to every home in the city, removing infected residents to immense isolation wards built hastily in a sports stadium, an exhibition center and a building complex.

“There must be no deserters, or they will be nailed to the pillar of historical shame forever,” said Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who is leading the government’s response to the virus.

Many specialist are doubtful that isolating thousands of patients in shelters can stop the spread of the coronavirus. There are more than 40,000 cases in China now, in every province, despite the fact that the wide majority are in Hubei Province.

“This is a bit like closing the barn door after the horses are already out,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expect at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

And the shelters, so reminiscent of those erected in the United States during the Spanish flu pandemic, raise other concerns.

Chinese authorities have said that only residents with confirmed coronavirus are being sent to shelter, but have not fully explained how they are being screened, raising the possibility that many patients may actually be infected with flu or something else.

Inside, narrow beds are laid side by side, or stacked in bunks, in wards separated by temporary walls — perfect for the transmission of respiratory viruses. Little is known about the treatments patients are to receive, or how long they will be kept.

A spectral parallel

The containment measures in Wuhan are reminiscent of steps taken in 1918 in the United States to stop the Spanish flu. But they are being put in order on a far grander scale: Wuhan is a city of 11 million.

In New York City in August 1918, after reports that an arriving Norwegian ship was carrying sailors and passengers infected with the Spanish flu, health officials dispatched ambulances to transport 11 patients directly to hospitals.