Doctor Hu Ke, a specialist in respiratory diseases, has been treating critical covid-19 patients in the city of Wuhan, China, for more than two months, the origin of the new coronavirus pandemic, which has already spread worldwide.
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This 55-year-old pulmonologist received EFE at the People's Hospital of Wuhan University, where he serves as a professor of pulmonary medicine and is part of the team of specialists formed to fight the disease in Hubei province.
What situation are we in now?
Now, the government is giving a lot of importance to so-called asymptomatic patients, but we cannot relax surveillance. We have less and less of these patients, we have fewer and fewer cases. Occasionally, one or two. But asymptomatic people are not many.
What was the worst moment you have experienced since the outbreak began?
In the first stage of the epidemic, the number of cases grew rapidly. In mid-January, patients kept coming and we didn't have enough beds in hospitals. At that time, there were too many patients and we couldn't handle it. It was complicated.
Wuhan's closure was "a must"
What measures have been taken to reverse the situation? How did the hospital collapse cope?
The government has taken correct action. In a short period of time, hospitals in Huoshenshan and Leishenshan were built and private clinics were required to care for patients. We all interned, built spaces to isolate patients with milder symptoms. For this, we use gyms and public spaces.
At the same time, medical personnel from other provinces arrived to help us treat the sick. I think this is the most important thing that other countries should also do.
Those were the three steps. The first is to build the new hospitals. The second, to bring more than 40 thousand medical professionals from other parts of the country to help here. Third, ask the government to urgently send us protective equipment and other medical supplies to address the problem.
What would happen if Wuhan had not been closed?
The city was closed on the eve of the Chinese New Year holiday. This period causes the greatest migration on the planet. It is Chinese tradition to come home to visit relatives. Our population would move in large numbers, more than in any other country. For us, this measure was essential.
Should other cities follow suit?
Wuhan's closure was very important. Not only was Wuhan closed, but other smaller cities in Hubei province as well. Closing the city, stopping public transport and banning agglomerations were key measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading. These are important control and prevention measures. Wuhan has a population of more than 10 million people, it takes determination to make such a decision.
"We had no way of knowing everything"
Even so, other cities in the world did not opt for such restricted quarantines or did so late …
Even though other countries have not closed cities, they have asked people to work from home. Restricting the movement of the population also has certain effects. The principle is the same that Wuhan followed. After taking these measures, European countries were able to slow the growth of cases. The United States remains a problem.
Countries like Iran are also a problem. Some religious countries have the habit of meeting in closed places, which causes agglomerations. Chinese measures were mandatory, and if they are done correctly they are also very important. Each country has different customs and cultures and the norm is that the measures also vary from country to country, but the lesson is the same for everyone.
Do you think Wuhan should have acted earlier?
It is not possible to speak of the first days because we have no experience to deal with this problem. Closing the city was a difficult decision. The other decisions also had to be made. Should other countries have taken action before? Nobody knows. We cannot see the full picture of this epidemic now and it is difficult to make decisions. We had no way of knowing everything. But we know that after two or three months of hard work, we are able to contain the virus. Why didn't other countries learn their lesson?
What is the main risk for China now?
This is a pandemic. Tens of thousands of people are sick, not counting those who are asymptomatic and those who have not been tested. There may be hundreds of thousands. The outbreak in Wuhan has been contained. China now has two problems. One of them, the so-called "imported" cases. There are many student students and Chinese workers abroad, wanting to return to the country. Many of them are afraid, they don't feel safe outside. At the moment China is the safest country and it is simpler to get treatment here.
In other places it is different. I've heard of people who don't get treatment if they just have a fever, or who need to pay a fortune for it if they don't have a health plan.
"There is no date" for normality
When will normalcy return to China?
The epidemic is virtually under control in China. There is no concrete moment when it can be said that it will be overcome. I think that asymptomatic cases will not be a big problem. The issue now is imported cases and their impact. There is no date because it will depend on how the situation develops in the rest of the world. We must protect ourselves from these cases and for that there are the 14-day quarantines that are imposed on those who arrive from outside.
As for a resumption of the outbreak, there are asymptomatic people who may be in the incubation period, but I repeat, this will be limited. I believe that with the summer the epidemic will end, in June it will no longer be a problem. We have to monitor the situation abroad, how it will be controlled. But as far as China is concerned, I am very optimistic. Other cities and provinces have returned to normal and Hubei is already doing the same. Wuhan will return to the news shortly.
What is your diagnosis for the rest of the world?
I don't dare to make a prediction. There are more than 200 countries and regions where the coronavirus is present. I heard news like that the United Kingdom wanted to use the practice of a policy of "immunizing" the population. I heard that people are blamed for wearing masks. This is something I don't understand. I'm not sick, but I have the freedom to use it. It is wrong to think that you can only wear the mask if you are sick. They are not useless, on the contrary. It is a proactive prevention measure. That is my opinion, at least and China's experience in this regard has been satisfactory.
The rest of the world must continue to take action. The shortest period of time to overcome the outbreak is a month. The maximum should have been just over two, according to Wuhan's experience. Of course, here came masterial, the doctors who came to Wuhan were not infected, etc. At first many doctors here were contaminated. But those who arrived later did not. Why? Because they were well protected. If doctors in New York are afraid to go to work, if they don't have suitable masks or clothes, they have a big problem.
"I've been treating patients since the end of December"
How many patients have you treated in total?
I have treated covid-19 patients daily, from late December until now. It's almost a hundred days. Today is an exception. I am in charge of the 14th floor of the third hospital building. On this floor we have space for 50 patients. In general, we have between 46 and 48, because we leave two beds reserved. Now we have around 26. If I hadn't come to give this interview, I would be visiting my patients. Every day, if I don't have a meeting or something else to do, I'm always on watch.
I don't know how to calculate how many patients I treat. In January we received consultations non-stop, from 8 am to 6 pm, about 150 patients per day.
What kind of patient came to your hospital?
Our hospital was designed exclusively to care for critically ill patients. Intensive care units in hospitals are limited. We were able to accommodate many of them for treatment. So far about 1,500 people have entered.
What helped you to treat so many people?
The experience with SARS in 2003. I specialized in respiratory problems and treating pneumonia for a long time. The difference was the number of patients. Panic and anxiety are also contagious. I worked for almost a hundred days, but I protected myself well and didn't get infected.
"I don't believe there will be a second wave in China"
What is your opinion on medical certificates linked to cell phones?
Supervision is very important. Everyone in Wuhan has a certificate that is linked to our healthcare system. The difference is that this certificate is now constantly updated and is linked to mobile applications. If you are infected, the code appears red. If you had contact or were close to a person who later tested positive, your code changes from green to red immediately. We only give health certificates to people who are healthy.
People are going to enter and leave Wuhan and we must maintain a high level of surveillance in the country. But I'm optimistic, I don't believe there will be a second wave of coronaviruses in China. There will be, from time to time …