The central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a deadly coronavirus outbreak, is rushing to build a makeshift hospital on its outskirts as a quarantine and treatment center for affected patients, in a move that replicates a decision regarded as instrumental in Beijing's fight 17 years ago against severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).
Hundreds of workers have been mobilized to complete the hospital " essentially a quarantine center, with capacity for about 1,000 patients " within six days as the disease spread rapidly across the country.
As of Friday, China had reported 875 confirmed cases of infection and 26 fatalities. In addition, the US, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have also reported confirmed cases.
According to an early blueprint obtained by the South China Morning Post, the new facility is going up in the Caidian district in Wuhan's west. The facility is likely to occupy nearly 25,000 square meters (6 acres) and will accommodate 1,000 beds, according to the official Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.
According to locals in Wuhan, the authorities are paying workers on the project as much as $170 a day, three times their usual wage, to accelerate construction.
The size and capacity of the new hospital are comparable to those of the facility built outside central Beijing's in April 2003 to contain the Sars outbreak, which led to more than 600 deaths in mainland China and Hong Kong.
That facility was taken over by the People's Liberation Army and operated as a "PLA Sars hospital" with 1,000 beds. Almost 15% of Sars patients from across China were treated at the hospital for over two months.
A source said the builders expected to receive the final blueprint by Friday and finish the project in six days.
"We will have our Lunar New Year eve's reunion dinner at the site. We have no time. We need to deliver this for inspection in six days," said one of the contractors, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The hospital will be made up of more than 20 prefabricated blocks, one to two floors high, but the exact number of beds and patients to be accommodated are still to be finalized.
"Quarantine is a very specific term, meaning that you have to be in isolation for 40 days. I don't see anything like that happening (in China)," said Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.
"It is, at present, the only approach, because we do not have any effective vaccine for controlling (the virus). I prefer to refer to it as isolation for containment rather than quarantine, until we have a better strategy so that the disease doesn't spread further," Lipkin said.
Several Chinese provinces and municipalities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have declared the highest level of public health emergency over the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, handing control of response measures to the State Council, China's cabinet.
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