Coronavirus nightmare of China’s ‘recovered’ patients

The nightmare began five days after Jiang returned to Wuhan on January 20 following the winter break, when she developed a fever. She was diagnosed with Covid-19 on January 27 and spent a month in hospital.

Just as she believed life was about to return to normal, she tested positive again 12 days later while still in isolation, and was sent back to hospital, where she remained until March 21.

“I was not even told that I had retested positive until I was sent to hospital and the doctors told me I would be treated there again for the coronavirus,” she said.

Under China’s testing criteria, patients like Jiang remain in designated hospitals until they meet the discharge conditions again. They are then observed for two weeks while they remain in isolation.

Conditions for discharge include three days of normal body temperature, an absence of respiratory problems, and a significant improvement in the chest lesions which are a feature of the disease. Patients must also test negative in two consecutive PCR tests – the swab technique which identifies any remaining genetic material of the virus – conducted at least one day apart.

While there are no national numbers for patients like Jiang, health authorities in the southern province of Guangdong said late last month that about 14 per cent of patients – more than a hundred at the time – who recovered from the coronavirus tested positive again after being discharged.

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Jiang’s experience appears to contradict comments in mid-March by Peng Zhiyong, director of intensive care at Wuhan University’s Zhongnan Hospital, who said it was extremely rare for patients to retest positive after they had recovered.

“My uncle and my grandpa both retested positive, and I met a lot of people I knew earlier when we were hospitalised again for treatment,” Jiang said. “But from what I saw, people who retested positive did not have serious symptoms and were discharged days later.”

Jiang said she initially was upset about her life amid the repeated positive tests, but the discrimination from friends and society against people who had contracted the disease made her feel even worse.

“One of my best friend’s family members told my friend to keep a distance from me for fear of contracting the virus, and I saw various news reports saying even healthy Hubei residents in other provinces face discrimination from others,” Jiang said.

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She called on society to be tolerant towards Hubei residents and recovered Covid-19 patients across the country. “We have no chance to contact other people, as we are hospitalised again during the required 14-day quarantine at a designated place,” she said.

“If we pass the 14-day quarantine and go home, we still need to self-isolate for two weeks. And if we can finally leave home afterwards, we cannot go everywhere as we cannot get the green code.”

On Friday, Chinese over the reopening of a Hubei provincial border, following weeks of lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In local media reports, witnesses were quoted as saying that police in the city of Jiujiang had set up a blockade on the bridge to stop people crossing from Hubei.

On Friday evening, the governments of Huangmei and Jiujiang released a joint statement saying they had agreed to remove the barriers set up to restrict travel during the lockdown, and also to recognise each other’s health screening codes to make it easier for people in good health to get to where they needed to be.

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