CHONGQING — "Deceased, deceased," a staffer in full protective gear shouted as she handed a nurse a death certificate, their hospital in central China overflowing with Covid patients.
China is battling a wave of infections that has hit the elderly hard, but has officially logged only a handful of deaths from the coronavirus after the government redefined the criteria by which Covid deaths are counted.
At No. 5 People's Hospital in Chongqing, the main entrance lobby had been converted into a makeshift Covid ward when AFP visited on Friday (Dec 23).
In the vast atrium, about a dozen beds occupied by mainly elderly patients on IV drips were cordoned off with red and white tape.
In a nearby room, about 40 mostly elderly and middle-aged patients sat on sofas and lay on beds receiving IV drips, some coughing.
A nurse said they all had Covid.
In an intensive care unit next door, three people lay on beds attached to respirators and heart monitoring equipment.
An elderly man was wheeled in on a stretcher, coughing and struggling to breathe.
At the emergency department, around 50 people queued for triage, including Covid patients, with one person at the front of the queue telling AFP they had waited for more than an hour.
The emergency room at another medium-sized hospital in downtown Chongqing was also overrun, with around 30 elderly people attached to IV drips, squeezed among beds and chairs.
Several were breathing through respirators and a few had pulse oximeters attached to their fingers.
A cleaner and a nurse at the first hospital told AFP there were several deaths per day since the government's sudden decision at the beginning of the month to lift health restrictions and end mass testing.
It was not clear if all of the deaths were related to the virus.