By AFP and Reuters
BEIJING – Coronavirus patients arrived Tuesday at a Chinese field hospital built from scratch in under two weeks at the frontline of the outbreak, state media said, following a round-the-clock construction marathon that became a national social media sensation.
The 1,000-bed facility was built to relieve hospitals swamped with patients in Wuhan, the city in Hubei province at the epicenter of the national health emergency that has killed more in China than the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Wuhan started on Monday night to convert a local gymnasium, an exhibition center, and a cultural complex into makeshift hospitals, a local newspaper reported.
The three venues will have more than 3,400 beds in total for patients suffering from mild cases of the infection, the official Changjiang Daily said.
Fifty patients arrived at the military-run facility, the state-backed China Daily reported, with images showing workers in protective suits pushing people in wheelchairs up a ramp and into the pre-fabricated structure.
The virus has killed more than 400 people and infected a further 20,000, nearly all of them in Hubei, and spread to two-dozen countries since it emerged in December at a market that sold wild animals in the city.
The World Health Organization has declared the crisis a global health emergency, and the first death outside China was confirmed in the Philippines on Sunday.
As reports surfaced of bed shortages in hospitals in Wuhan, construction began on Huoshenshan — ”Fire God Mountain” in Chinese — on Friday January 24.
Workers toiled day and night amid a forest of earthmovers and trucks carting materials around the site, southwest of the centre of the city of 11 million.
On the side of one of the trucks, the isolated city’s new rallying cry — ”Let’s go Wuhan!” — was written on a banner.
The two-floor facility was handed over to the army on Sunday and will be staffed with 1,400 military medics, including some with experience dealing with SARS and Ebola.
State media had initially reported that patients would begin arriving Monday — inside the 10-day timeframe authorities had set out when construction began.
Leishenshan (”Thunder God Mountain”), another hospital on an adjacent site, is set to start admitting patients on Thursday, with 1,600 beds.
Fire and thunder are traditionally associated in China with protection against illnesses.
Authorities said the Wuhan facilities were modeled on the Xiaotangshan hospital in Beijing, which was built from prefabricated structures in barely a week to treat patients infected by SARS in 2003.