Chinese film director Chang Kai and family die from coronavirus

Emma Graham-Harrison
Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese film director, his sister, mother and father have all died from the coronavirus, the latest high-profile victims of the disease in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak.

Chang Kai, 55, died on 14 February. His parents died over the previous two weeks, after the family spent days together in self-quarantine, the Chinese magazine Caixin reported. Chang’s sister died hours after he did, and his wife is in a serious condition.

Death rates in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei provinces have been higher than in the rest of China and beyond. Many patients reported struggling to find a bed in hospitals filled far beyond capacity, even as the government built new hospitals and converted spaces like an exhibition centre into makeshift medical centres.

Others have died despite intensive medical care including a whistleblower doctor and the head of a hospital. An environmental activist and his wife are also thought to have been killed by coronavirus, although they were not tested for the disease.

The World Health Organization has said that although the disease would be mild in four of five patients, about 20% will have more severe symptoms.

There are concerns that initial government advice for those with symptoms to stay at home may have exacerbated the toll from the disease, with close confinement leading to whole families being infected.

Chang had nursed his father at home after he fell sick in late January. He took the older man to several hospitals, but could not find a bed, Caixin reported. On 28 January he was the family’s first victim but others had already become infected.

Chang’s mother died a few days later, then he became seriously ill. The director sent a deathbed message to friends, describing his grief and sending love to his son in London. “Farewell to those I love and to those who loved me!”

Authorities are taking suspected coronavirus patients to quarantine centres, sometimes forcibly.

The home quarantine policy could have caused clusters of cross-household and cross-community infections by allowing serious infections to progress without treatment, Caixin reported, quoting Chen Bo, a professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan.

The virus has infected more than 73,000 people and killed 1,875, according to latest data. The vast majority of those cases have been in China, within Hubei province.