Shanghai, China’s most international city and financial centre, is building a new hospital to handle coronavirus patients as the deadly disease continues to spread across the country.
Hundreds of workers are building the infectious disease facility in suburban Jinshan in the southwest – far from the city’s glitzy Lujiazui financial district, and Shanghai’s famous Bund waterfront area.
The new hospital will be an extension of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, where all of the city’s coronavirus patients – currently 299 of them – are being treated.
Wu Jinglei, director of Shanghai’s health commission, told media on Monday that the new hospital was needed as a contingency measure if the number of patients in the city increased.
According to Wu, the new hospital plan was originally made back in 2003, with land put aside for a future expansion when it was needed. Now it was being put into action to cope with the outbreak, he said, without saying when it would be ready.
The pneumonia-like illness has infected more than 40,000 people and killed 910, almost all of them in mainland China, since the outbreak began in December. Cases have also been reported in more than 20 other countries around the world.
Shanghai is the latest of more than a dozen big cities in China racing to open facilities to house the rapidly rising number of patients.
In Wuhan, the Hubei capital where the outbreak started and where many patients are struggling to get treatment, two temporary hospitals were built from scratch in less than two weeks, while other makeshift medical facilities are being used for those with mild symptoms and suspected cases.
The new facility in Shanghai will be equipped with negative pressure wards, where air flows into the room but not out, and will have 200 beds, according to officials. It will be built next to the public health clinic, which has more than 600 beds.
There are also plans for a separate facility in nearby Pujiang township, also in Shanghai.
China has built temporary hospitals at speed before. The Xiaotangshan hospital built in Beijing in 2003 to treat severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) patients is being refitted and put into use again, and is expected to provide about 1,500 hospital beds, according to Beijing Evening News.
Other major cities that have built, or are building, similar facilities include Shenzhen, Tianjin, Xian in Shaanxi province, and Zhengzhou in Henan – all well-known manufacturing bases in China.
Millions of workers across the country are heading back to work this week after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.
Zhang Wenhong, head of the infectious disease centre at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, warned in an online article over the weekend that their return could pose a serious challenge to efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Those efforts have included the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and at least 15 other cities in Hubei province, affecting more than 50 million people.
According to Hong Kong-based public health expert Dr Chiang Chun-yuan, makeshift hospitals were the only option for treating the large number of coronavirus patients in mainland China.
“We have good doctors and we must also have sufficient facilities, otherwise the doctors cannot carry out their work treating patients,” said Chiang, founder of health information platform IHDpay.
Another doctor, who is involved in treating suspected coronavirus patients in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, said building special-purpose hospitals was important for populous cities to prevent further infections.
“Such hospitals allow us to centralise our medical resources and treat patients in the same place, so as to better control the epidemic,” he said, on condition of anonymity.
“But I don’t think medium or small cities need to do this, as long as their existing facilities can handle the patients.
“It’s very costly both in terms of manpower and investment… and it may be very hard to keep them running in the long term, after the epidemic fades away,” he said.
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This article was first published in the South China Morning Post.