Chinese hospitals at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak have been so inundated with potential patients they have asked the public to donate medical supplies.
Videos circulating online show throngs of people crowding hospital corridors in Wuhan, the city where the virus first starting spreading.
At least eight hospitals in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, have asked the public to bring masks, goggles, gowns and other protective medical gear.
Officials at the Wuhan University People’s Hospital have even set up a group on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.
In the nearby city of Huanggang, staff at the Fever Control Command Centre have also put out a call for donations of medical supplies and disinfectant equipment.
State-run media, including the People’s Daily newspaper, have publicised these requests.
Wuhan and nine other cities in Hubei province, with a total population of about 33 million people, have been effectively quarantined in an effort to stop the coronavirus spreading.
All public transport connections by road and rail have been shut down and flights cancelled, despite the Lunar New Year festival, which sees tens of millions of Chinese travel to stay with family.
In Wuhan, residents have been ordered to wear face masks at all times and there have been reports of stockpiling.
Many shops now have empty shelves after locals stocked up on essentials, fearing they could be cut off from the outside world for a long time.
City officials have already begun building an emergency 1,000-bed hospital, just to treat those believed to have contracted the mystery virus, which has so far killed 26 people and been confirmed in more than 800 other cases.
Because existing medical facilities are proving inadequate to cope with the numbers of patients, the 25,000 square metre prefabricated structure is being thrown up in just a few days.
About 30 mechanical diggers are on site, hurriedly assembling the new hospital, with the aim that construction be finished by 3 February.
The rows of cabins are modelled on a similar purpose-built hospital thrown up by authorities in Beijing to cope with the Sars outbreak in 2003.
The new building will only be sent patients who have actually been confirmed to have caught the virus. Many of those now crowding existing hospitals are nervous locals, worried they may have caught the mysterious ailment.
“There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update, it’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area,” said Lily Jin, 30, a resident of the city. “Even if you’re not ill you’ll frighten yourself into getting sick.”
State-run media reported on Friday that a state council meeting on the response to the coronavirus had been held.
“The spread of the virus has not been cut off. Local authorities should take more responsibility and have a stronger sense of urgency,” state television said, without giving more details.
Initial symptoms of the virus are similar to the flu and most people who catch it make a full recovery without becoming seriously ill.
Most of those who have died have been either very young or elderly, often with underlying health conditions exacerbated by the virus.
The World Health Organisation, which has so far refrained from declaring a global health emergency, told reporters it expected the numbers of those affected to go up.
“The focus is not so much on the (case) numbers, which we know will go up,” spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a Geneva news briefing. “It’s still too early to draw conclusions on how severe the virus is.”