A 1,000-bed hospital, built in just 10 days to address the overwhelming demand from the coronavirus outbreak, has opened in Wuhan.
The 30,000-square-yard Huoshenshan Hospital is one of two new hospitals being built and was handed over by the construction team on Sunday, with the first patients arriving Monday, according to Chinese state media.
A total of 1,400 medical staff from the armed forces have been brought into Wuhan to operate the hospital.
The second hospital is set to open Wednesday, and the two new facilities will help alleviate the massive overcrowding issues plaguing Wuhan’s hospitals in recent weeks.
Since workers broke ground on the two new facilities, the death toll has rocketed from 26 on Jan. 24, to 362 on Monday, an almost 14-fold increase in just 10 days. The number of infections has risen from 830 to almost 17,500.
The construction project has captured global attention for the rapid pace, and in China live streams of the building process have been watched by more than 40 million people, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
While Chinese state media have been heavily promoting the successful opening of the hospital — calling it a “mission impossible” — there was growing anger among citizens over reports about the steps Beijing took to conceal the developing crisis and silence any efforts to raise the alarm.
Beijing has been keen to portray itself as proactive in combating the spread of the virus. While the World Health Organization has praised efforts like locking down 50 million people in central Hubei province where the outbreak originated, many countries don’t believe China has done enough.
The result is that countries including the U.S., Russia, and Australia have imposed travel bans on China. The Philippines also imposed a travel ban, shortly before it announced the first death from the coronavirus outside of China.
The U.S. has closed its borders to all foreign nationals who have visited China in the last two weeks, while U.S. citizens returning from Hubei province will be quarantined for 14 days. Beijing reacted angrily to the move, saying on Monday all Washington has done is “create and spread fear” with its “overreaction” to the outbreak.
“The U.S. government hasn’t provided any substantial assistance to us,” Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman told reporters. The usual weekly press conference was conducted on WeChat rather than in person, in a bid to limit the chances of spreading the virus.
However, in Hong Kong, hospital staff went on strike on Monday, demanding the government there close the border with China completely. The city-state has reported 15 confirmed cases of the virus so far and on Monday it closed all but two land crossings with the Chinese mainland. The airport also remains open.
“If there is no full border closure, there won't be enough manpower, protective equipment, or isolation rooms, to combat the outbreak," Winnie Yu, chairwoman of the newly formed Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, said.
As well as trying to treat patients and stop the spread of the disease, Beijing is attempting to offset a major economic slowdown resulting from the epidemic.
On Sunday the government announced it would pump $22 billion into the Chinese economy. On Monday markets fell sharply after opening for the first time in 10 days, after a prolonged Lunar New Year break.
Also adding to the pressure on Beijing was the announcement this weekend that a “highly pathogenic strain” of H5N1 bird flu has been confirmed in Hunan province, which borders Hubei province.
Some 4,500 chickens died on the farm where the outbreak occurred, and the government has culled another 18,000. The World Health Organization said that while human cases of H5N1 can occur, it “does not infect humans easily.”
Cover: Zhou Xianwang, left, the mayor of Wuhan, exchanges documents with Bai Zhongbin, right, deputy commander-in-chief of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Joint Logistic Support Force, during a handover ceremony at the Huoshenshan temporary field hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)