PHOTOS: China Builds A Medical Center From Scratch In Under 2 Weeks

Feb 2, 2020
Originally published on February 3, 2020 3:06 pm

Updated on Feb. 3 at 1:30 p.m. ET

China said it was going to build two hospitals in under two weeks.

The time frame was not an exaggeration. Ground was broken on the first facility on Jan. 24. Chinese media reported that the facility, with beds for 1,000 coronavirus patients, opened its doors on Feb. 3.

But the term "hospital" may not be exactly on point.

Two new health care facilities are going up. Huoshenshan Hospital (above), scheduled to open on Feb. 3, is named for a god of fire, reportedly because the newly identified coronavirus does not tolerate high heat. The second facility will be called Leishenshan, which means "lightning god mountain." In Chinese folklore, the lightning god punishes those who commit unethical acts.
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"I wouldn't call it a hospital. I would call it more of a triage and isolation facility," says Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Raymond Pan agrees. He's design principal at HMC Architects and designed Shunde Hospital of Southern Medical University in China, which opened in 2018.

"An infection triage, treatment and recovery center — that's what I think it is," says Pan. The idea is to have "essentially a center for mass quarantine of patients." People who test positive for the new coronavirus will be held in private rooms and receive treatment until they recover and are no longer contagious.

This aerial photo of the construction site was taken on Jan. 27.
Hector Retamal / AFP via Getty Images

The two structures will consist largely of "prefabricated hospital components," says Pan. "Each bedroom is built off-site" with materials such as aluminum and steel, then brought to the site to "plug in and stack up." The exterior of the building will likely be plaster or metal, he believes.

What's more impressive than the two-story aboveground building, says Pan, is creating the underground infrastructure to bring in water, electricity and an air supply. "That's not an easy feat."

Four thousand construction workers, using some 100 construction machines, are building Huoshenshan Hospital. This photo was taken on Jan. 28.
Xiao Yijiu / AP

The Chinese have experience erecting these fast-track medical centers. A facility was built in about a week in Beijing in 2003 to house SARS patients. The center has since been abandoned, says Pan, but reports in Chinese media say that it is being rehabbed for possible use by coronavirus patients.

The speed of construction is partly because of China's ability to mobilize resources. There are 4,000-plus workers on each site for the two facilities going up in Wuhan and hundreds of construction machines.

In theory, the U.S. could put up a medical center as fast as China can, Pan says — but in practice, no. "One of the reasons is that we have a tighter inspection process. In China that process is not as stringent as in the U.S."

The new facilities aim to relieve overcrowded hospitals in Wuhan, where patients are flocking with coronavirus-like symptoms. This photo is from Jan. 28.
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But he's not worried that the new centers will be poorly constructed. "I think they are structurally sound," Pan says. But he does have concerns — about the environmental impact of rapidly installing the underground infrastructure and about whether "any type of chemicals in use for treatment percolate down to the earth below."

The two medical centers are "pretty close to residential areas," says Pan. "If I'm living next to one, I would be really concerned about those aspects."

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Construction goes on around the clock. This photo is from Jan. 28.
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A construction worker on the job, photographed on Jan. 28.
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Taking a break.
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In addition to aboveground construction, underground work must be done to bring in water, an air supply and electricity.
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The new facility is essentially a center for the mass isolation of patients.
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The Chinese government has the capacity to mobilize resources to build a medical center at a rapid pace. This photo is from Jan. 30.
Cai Yang / Xinhua via AP
The prefabricated patient bedrooms are built off-site and then brought in and stacked up. This photo is from Jan. 30.
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Steel and aluminum are among the materials for the prefab bedrooms. This photo is from Jan. 30.
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Wuhan's Huoshenshan Hospital opened on Monday, Feb. 3. This photo is from Jan. 30.
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This aerial photo was taken on February 2, the day before Huoshenshan hospital was scheduled to open as a treatment center for coronavirus patients.
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