China seizes hotels, hospitals and cars to fight coronavirus

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Chinese authorities have begun emergency requisitioning of private hospitals, hotels, apartments, cars and even face masks as the country’s rising number of coronavirus patients threatens to overwhelm local government facilities. But the measures, particularly the requisitioning of hospitals, have left some people with other life-threatening diseases without critical care, creating what one relative of a cancer patient affected by the seizures described as a “humanitarian” disaster. China’s southern industrial hub of Guangzhou this week joined a host of other big city governments such as Zhengzhou, Fuzhou and Xi’an in passing emergency legislation for requisitioning. In Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, local authorities have seized offices, student dormitories and other hospitals to create more beds for coronavirus patients. “Wuhan’s health system has collapsed because of the epidemic. The government has basically ignored other diseases,” said city resident Liu Congfeng, whose mother-in-law was suffering from cancer but had lost her hospital bed to coronavirus patients. The coronavirus has brought the world’s second-largest economy to a halt after authorities ordered a lockdown of Wuhan and factories and businesses across China began shutting down. The head of the World Health Organization warned this week that the outbreak posed a “very grave threat for the rest of the world” as the number of confirmed infections in China reached 44,653 late on Tuesday, with 1,113 deaths. Recommended FT MagazineYuan Yang China and fake news in the time of coronavirus But in a sign the draconian quarantine measures might be working, the number of daily new cases outside Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, fell for the eighth consecutive day on Wednesday.  The government had originally called for workplaces to reopen on Monday, but many businesses, shops and restaurants remained closed. A top government official said this week that he expected another 160m people to return to work by next Tuesday.  “If we don’t get back to work, we’ll have shortages of medical supplies in the short term, and longer term we’ll run out of other necessary daily goods,” said Cong Liang, a senior official at the National Development and Reform Commission.  China’s cabinet, the State Council, announced on Monday that counties and city governments could requisition hotels as needed to provide medical personnel with accommodation.  “Wuhan needed to requisition hotels for patient quarantine and taxis to transport medical personnel, it’s an emergency measure, the situation is very serious,” said Zhang Yansheng of government affiliated think-tank CCIEE. Authorities have also tried to requisition medical supplies. Last week in the city of Dali, in Yunnan province, authorities seized thousands of face masks as the goods passed through on the way to other cities. But the head of the local health commission was fired after national news reported on the manoeuvre.  Recommended Coronavirus Coronavirus mapped: the latest figures as the outbreak spreads  The human cost of the radical requisitioning measures is also rising, relatives say. Wuhan resident Mr Liu said the city government had ejected his mother-in-law, who was suffering from late-stage stomach cancer, from the Guangfa Group Cancer Hospital on February 5 to make way for coronavirus patients. “Her condition has worsened dramatically,” said Mr Liu. Other hospitals in the city have also told him they have no room for cancer patients. “All we want is regular injections of painkillers and intravenous fluids so she can pass away peacefully,” Mr Liu said. “I know a lot of terminally sick people have died after being kicked out of the hospital.”