China’s Wuhan City, the capital of Hubei, is building a 1,000-bed hospital in six days in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has the city on lockdown, and it plans to build a second dedicated hospital with 1,300 beds over a two-week period. Sitework for the first hospital began last Thursday, when dozens of bulldozers began clearing land on the outskirts of Wuhan, a city of 11 million, where the novel coronavirus reportedly originated.
Since then, more than 100 workers have converged on the site in Wuhan’s Caidian district. Local authorities are spearheading the construction effort and have set February 3 as the target date for completing the first facility, the Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital. According to the South China Morning Post, Huoshenshan Hospital will be both a quarantine and treatment center reserved for people infected with the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has been blamed for causing the deaths of 80 people and infecting thousands since last month.
The primary reason the first facility can be built so quickly is that much of it will consist of prefabricated structures, more than 20 in all, built elsewhere and then installed on the site.
A site plan published by the Morning Post showed that the first Wuhan hospital will be a low rise structure with a series of wards for patient care. The prefabricated modules, one to two stories high, will be separated by outdoor space and connected by central corridors.
The completed facility will be 269,000 square feet and will hold approximately 1,000 beds, according to The People’s Daily, a state-run media agency. Construction workers are reportedly being paid three times their usual wages because the government considers it an emergency. CITIC Pacific Properties, a subsidiary of CITIC Limited in Hong Kong, has worked with local officials and China’s Ministry of Health to design the Huoshenshan Hospital. China State Construction Engineering is one of the lead builders.
“It’s basically a quarantined hospital where they send people with infectious diseases so it has the safety and protective gear in place,” Joan Kaufman, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, told the BBC.
“China has a record of getting things done fast, even for monumental projects like this,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC. Because it is an authoritarian country, China can overcome bureaucracy and financial constraints and mobilize a large workforce quickly, added Huang, who is also a professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. “Engineering work is what China is good at. They have records of building skyscrapers at speed. This is very hard for Westerners to imagine. It can be done.”
People with the 2019-nCoV virus develop flu-like symptoms that can lead to pneumonia, including a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Existing hospitals and “fever clinics” in Wuhan and other cities have been overwhelmed by people exhibiting symptoms and seeking treatment; especially as the country has locked down Wuhan and a total of 56 million residents in quarantine. Construction of the new medical facilities is one of many measures the Chinese government is taking to address the spread of the virus, along with closing tourist destinations such as Shanghai Disneyland and Beijing’s Forbidden City.
On Saturday, the People’s Daily reported that Wuhan plans to build a second hospital, Leishenshan Hospital, designed to accommodate 1,300 patients. The target occupancy date for that project is mid-February.
Government leaders say the process for both projects is modeled on a hospital that China built in 2003 to treat patients during an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That facility, the Xiaotangshan Hospital, was built in Beijing in seven days and eventually was the location where one-seventh of the country’s SARS patients were treated. At the time, the project set a world record for hospital construction.
More than 4,000 people worked day and night to build the SARS hospital in 2003, according to news reports at the time. In addition to patient wards, it had an X-ray room, intensive care unit, laboratory and other medical facilities, and according to officials, Wuhan’s hospitals will be comparable in size to the 2003 facility.