Authorities in Wuhan began building a 1000-bed hospital to deal with the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday night, and say it will be finished in just six days.
The rapid construction project is a reaction to the unraveling situation in the central Chinese city, which has been closed off from the outside. Hospitals are running out of beds and medical supplies, while patients presenting with coronavirus symptoms have been turned away. The situation has led to growing criticism for the slow reaction to the crisis by authorities in Wuhan and in Beijing.
The virus has now killed 26 people and infected 830 worldwide.
Work began on the new hospital — which will effectively act as a quarantine center — in the Caidian district of Wuhan on Thursday night, Chinese state media reported. Officials and those working on the construction project say the hospital will be ready to receive patients by the middle of next week.
While the incredibly tight deadline may seem impossible to meet, the project follows a similarly rapid build during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Then, a team of 7,000 workers in Beijing built the 1000-bed Xiaotangshan hospital in just a week.
The South China Morning Post reported that hundreds of workers have already begun working on the site with locals saying they are being paid 1,200 yuan ($173) per day, three times their normal rate.
The plans for the building are still being finalized but are expected to be sent to the construction company on Friday.
Images and video footage posted on social media by Chinese media outlets on Friday show dozens of diggers, bulldozers, and trucks working to clear a site on the outskirts of the city.
While the state-run media has praised the response from the government and urged calm, Wuhan residents are expressing their anger and frustration on social media, despite efforts to silence those critics.
The footage being posted to social media by Wuhan residents in recent days, shows a health system in chaos, with patients lying in hospital hallways, doctors screaming at patients, and long queues of people waiting hours to be seen.
Many residents are now reporting that they have been turned away from hospitals after being told that there are not enough testing kits for the new virus.
The stark reality of the situation in Wuhan, where most of the 830 cases of infection have been reported, was laid bare when hospitals in the city also began using the social network Weibo to make appeals for supplies.
“Shortage of medical supplies, request help!!!” the Wuhan Children’s Hospital said Thursday in one post. Other hospitals in the city have followed suit, requesting surgical masks, disposable garments, protective goggles and gloves.
The dire situation in Wuhan has put the Chinese government under severe pressure to do more to limit the spread of the infections. Beijing has been criticized for its delayed reaction to the outbreak, which was first reported locally in Wuhan in mid-December.
Part of the government’s plan to wrest back control of the situation is shutting down entire cities, including Wuhan. In recent days the government has ordered severe travel restrictions on nine other cities in the central province of Hubei, including Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhejiang, Jingmen, and Xiantao — impacting some 30 million people.
The coronavirus crisis has come at the worst possible time in China, as hundreds of millions of people begin their long journeys home to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival which kicks off on Saturday.
In an unprecedented move, Beijing has canceled all large-scale public New Year festivities.
The World Health Organization on Thursday said the outbreak represented an emergency for China, but stopped short of declaring a public health emergency for the international community.
So far confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Macau, and Taiwan.
Cover: Workers stand amid heavy equipment at a construction site for a field hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)