‘I’m much more useful here’: A French doctor’s experience in coronavirus-hit Wuhan

French doctor Philippe Klein in Wuhan, China, January 29, 2020.
French doctor Philippe Klein in Wuhan, China, January 29, 2020. © Hector Retamal, AFP

The epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and a bigger city than London, Wuhan is still under lockdown. Six days after his country evacuated its citizens from the area, the indomitable French doctor Philippe Klein is still there caring for his patients.


Within 15 minutes of France’s announcement that it was repatriating its nationals from the Chinese city Wuhan on January 26, Philippe Klein had made up his mind: “I’m much more useful here,” said the head doctor at the international clinic in this city of 11 million inhabitants. Between two appointments, he told FRANCE 24 about daily life in virus-hit Wuhan.

According to the latest report, more than 24,300 people have been infected with the coronavirus in China and 490 have died from it there. What is the medical situation in the country, as you see it?

We’re still at the stage where the epidemic is growing. But we’re seeing it spread in a linear, not exponential, fashion – and that’s thanks to the containment measures put in place in the city since mid-January, in particular. Given the twelve-day incubation period, the epidemic should peak around February 8.

How are Chinese hospitals managing the crisis?

There are more and more operational hospitals beds – especially with the opening of the famous hospital built in ten days. It takes care of around fifty patients, who have shown the most severe symptoms of the disease and who require a great deal of attention. As far as the staff are concerned, there is enough medical staff and they’re very dedicated. One has to admire their tremendous courage.

On the other hand, Chinese hospitals face a lack of equipment, in particular protections for medical personnel, which limits them on an operational level. This may seem strange, seeing as the main manufacturers of medical products – such as masks and protective equipment – are Chinese, but Beijing now has to urgently buy stocks back from foreign countries.

What kind of measures do you take during your appointments?

To avoid contaminating my patients, I prefer to go to the homes of expats. Before each consultation, I put all my protective gear in my car, with my gloves and mask. I was able to replenish my stocks thanks to the equipment brought on the French planes in charge of the evacuation of French expats.

Are there many French people left in Wuhan?

Only a few dozen. We are in a ghost town, in which everyone stays cloistered at home. Big companies have evacuated all their employees along with their families. My wife and son left aboard the second plane the French sent. It was a very different choice, but as a doctor, I have to live with the risk of bringing viruses home. In light of the medical situation, it’s better to avoid having to face health problems here, so that you don’t have to go to overcrowded hospitals.

Who is most at risk?

The people who have died from the coronavirus so far were in poor health. Either they were old or they had some kind of underlying illness. I am currently treating young foreigners infected with the coronavirus – and their prognosis is good. This is a sign that better days will return to Wuhan.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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