China coronavirus: rush is on in Wuhan to build treatment centre for up to 1,000 patients

William Zheng

Wuhan is rushing to build a makeshift hospital on its outskirts as a quarantine and treatment centre for patients in the latest coronavirus outbreak, replicating a step regarded as instrumental in Beijing’s fight 17 years ago against severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

Hundreds of workers have been mobilised to complete the hospital – essentially a quarantine centre, with capacity for about 1,000 patients – within six days as the disease spreads rapidly across China to all provinces and autonomous regions, with the exception of Tibet and Qinghai.

As of Friday, China had reported 892 confirmed cases of infection and 26 fatalities. In addition, the US, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have also reported confirmed cases.

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According to an early blueprint obtained by the South China Morning Post, the new facility is going up in the Caidian district in Wuhan’s west. The facility is likely to occupy nearly 25,000 square metres and will accommodate 1,000 beds, according to official Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

According to locals in Wuhan, the authorities are paying workers on the project as much as 1,200 yuan (US$173) per day – three times their usual wage – to accelerate construction.

Blueprint of the new coronavirus treatment centre at Wuhan. Photo: Handout

The size and capacity of the new hospital is comparable to the facility built in Xiaotangshan town in Beijing’s Changping district in April 2003 to contain the Sars outbreak.

That facility was taken over by the People’s Liberation Army and operated as a “PLA Sars hospital” with 1,000 beds. Almost 15 per cent of Sars patients from across China were treated at the Xiaotangshan hospital in two months.

In the latest project, machines from construction companies including China Construction Third Engineering Bureau (CCTEB), have started to flatten the ground while designers from Citic Pacific Properties finalise the blueprint. A CCTEB source said they expected to receive the final blueprint by Friday and finish the project in six days.

“We will have our Lunar New Year eve’s reunion dinner at the site. We have no time. We need to deliver this for inspection in six days,” said one of the contractors, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the matter.

The hospital will be made up of more than 20 prefabricated blocks, one to two floors high, but the exact number of beds and patients to be accommodated are still to be finalised.

“Quarantine is a very specific term, meaning that you have to be in isolation for 40 days. I don’t see anything like that happening [in China],” said Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.

“It is, at present, the only approach, because we do not have any effective vaccine for controlling [the virus],” he said.

“I prefer to refer to it as isolation for containment rather than quarantine, until we have a better strategy so that the disease doesn’t spread further.”

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