Sources inside China are accusing authorities of mishandling the distribution of supplies that the public has donated to help with the coronavirus response.
Doctors and nurses from several hospitals designated to treat the coronavirus have turned to social media to plead for help. Videos shared online show medical staff wearing trash bags due to the lack of protective suits and shoe covers.
On Jan. 31, spokeswoman for the Union Hospital in Wuhan City, the epicenter of the outbreak, told state-run media Shangyou News: “We keep on receiving donated materials. But we have a lot of patients, and [medical staff] use a large amount of those materials,” she said.
In fact, China’s Civil Affairs Ministry has banned any privately-run charities or volunteers from entering Hubei Province—where Wuhan is the capital—since Jan. 26. Furthermore, all future donations are to be handled by official, state-run charities only.
Perhaps as a sign of the desperate need for supplies in Wuhan, authorities loosened up those rules and began allowing donations to go directly to hospitals on Jan. 30.
On Jan. 31 evening, Li Qiang, a member of a Chinese Communist Party group in Wuhan, explained at a press conference how the donations were distributed: “By noon of Jan. 31, the Wuhan Charity Federation received 2.586 billion yuan ($372.8 million) donations, and we have used 841.91 million yuan ($121.37 million) of them… the Wuhan Red Cross received 608.08 million yuan ($87.66 million) donations in cash, and allocated 158.59 million yuan ($22.86 million) to the municipal outbreak control center.”
The data reveals that only 30 percent of the donations have been disbursed so far.
Li does not have an official position in government, but is Party secretary of Jianghan University, and was nominated to be vice mayor of Wuhan in December 2019.
He admitted that authorities did not distribute the donations promptly enough.
“Our performance cannot match people’s expectations,” Li said. “We didn’t deliver the received materials quickly, and didn’t allocate the donated cash in time.”
Netizens are also accusing authorities of not prioritizing resources properly.
In China, Red Cross organizations are run by local governments.
On Jan. 30, the Hubei provincial Red Cross published the distribution of donated materials—collected from all parts of China and overseas—for the first time. It shows that most of the face masks were given to the provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, about 120,000 masks) and Wuhan Railway Bureau (50,000 masks).
The Union Hospital, a facility for treating the coronavirus, only received 3,000 masks, while the Renai Hospital received 18,000 masks. The latter is a medical facility specially for reproductive treatment and plastic surgery. It is not on the list of 61 Wuhan government-designated hospitals for coronavirus treatment.
On Jan. 31, the provincial Red Cross stated on its website that Renai Hospital had applied for the masks and claimed they had many patients who developed the fever.
The state-run media outlet Hongxing News then called Renai Hospital. The staff answered: “We are a gynecology and obstetric hospital. We don’t accept patients who have fever.”
Local media outlets have reported that due to the inefficiencies of state-sanctioned charity organizations, hospitals are now in urgent need of supplies.
State-run media Southern Weekly reported on Jan. 28 that more than 160 hospitals in the country have asked for medical supplies, including about 90 hospitals from Hubei Province and at least 74 from other Chinese regions.
The report was quickly deleted.
Meanwhile, Dingxiangyuan, a social media platform for medical workers, released an update on Jan. 29 evening and said they received requests from 136 hospitals in Hubei Province for face masks and protective suits.
The platform posted the contact information of staff at those hospitals and said it hoped people could donate to the hospitals directly.
Donations from Overseas
Hong Kong media Initium reported on Jan. 31 about the difficulties of donating to Wuhan hospitals.
“The customs authorities asked us to declare the goods and pay tariffs,” said Zhang Hao, a 36-year-old doctor who was collecting material donations for a Wuhan hospital.
Zhang told Initium that some doctors from the hospital found that a large amount of masks, goggles, and protective suits arrived at Wuhan customs from the United States on the evening of Jan. 24.
Zhang and his peers ultimately paid 20 percent tariffs and received the goods.
Zhang Ying, a volunteer based in Shanghai, was excited when several German factories agreed to sell 500,000 face masks to her at cost. But she couldn’t find a way to import the materials.
“Customs said there were two ways to import these masks: by donation or sourcing,” Zhang Ying told Initium. “Donation means the goods will belong to the government and won’t be given to us. Sourcing means we need to pay 20 percent tariffs.”
Donations Within China
Initium also reported that it was difficult for Chinese citizens to give donations to doctors directly because senior officials often claimed that hospitals have enough supply and that the government doesn’t allow direct donations.
It cited an example with the No. 5 Hospital in Wuhan. Tian Hongmin, chief nurse of the hospital, published on social media Jan. 27 that the facility needed 100,000 N95 face masks, 200,000 surgical masks, 10,000 protective suits, and 1,000 goggles.
However, when several good samaritans sent first batch of materials to the hospital that evening, they couldn’t reach Tian by phone. A group of people at the hospital claimed that staff had taken the materials away.
Finally, Zhao Qing, a local who initiated donation efforts, reached Tian by phone. Tian said she was dismissed after making the social media post because the government didn’t allow the hospital to ask for help.
Another volunteer Qianqian told Initium that the materials she and her peers collected were grabbed away by staff from the Red Cross several times since Jan. 24.
The 2019 novel coronavirus was first confirmed by Wuhan authorities on Dec. 31, 2019. But official data published in a recent medical study revealed that the first patient exhibited symptoms on Dec. 1.
The disease has since spread to all Chinese provinces and regions and more than 20 countries.