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How China built a fully functioning hospital in 10 days

by Sangam Adhikari

As the Coronavirus outbreak started to spread throughout Wuhan China in early 2020, it was clear that the city’s hospitals would not be enough to treat all the cases. So, on January 23rd, the Wuhan government decided that another hospital had to be built, and built fast. They announced the plan for a brand new 1,000-bed hospital to be up and running in 10 days time.

Step 1 in building a hospital in 10 days: Find a location.

14 miles (23 kilometers) from central Wuhan there was a large and relatively open field.

This was perfect because it meant that the hospital would be far enough from the dense urban center to make transmission from patients to citizens unlikely, but close enough for easy access to Wuhans electrical grid and transportation.

Step 2 in building a hospital in 10 days: Prepare the location.

The road (highlighted in yellow) that ran by this field was immediately shut down so that all the architects, developers, engineers, construction workers, materials, equipment, and machinery would be able to get in as quickly as possible.

The contract for the hospital was given to a subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the largest (by revenue) construction company in the world, and one with decades of experience in ambitious projects including Egypt’s new capital city, and Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory.

The first 3 days of construction were spent solely on clearing the area and leveling the ground.

Step 3 in building a hospital in 10 days: Lay the foundation.

This was done in layers. First, 8 inches of sand was spread across the area. Next, a semi-permeable geotextile fabric was laid down. Then came a nonpermeable plastic layer. Then more geotextile. Then a last layer of sand.

And finally, concrete was poured over the entire thing and was left to set for a couple of days.

Step 4 in building a hospital in 10 days: Assemble the pieces.

By now, workers have been working around the clock for almost 5 days, and an entire 2 story hospital still needs to be built in the few days left before opening. This was done using prefabricated construction.

Basically, prefabricated construction is when a bunch of identical components of a structure are built somewhere off-site before being transported in and assembled on-site. It’s a cheap, speedy way to get things off the ground quickly, essentially factory assembly-line style for the 21st-century building.

The first things to go up were the basic structural supports for the floor and ceiling of both stories, the hospital’s skeleton.

While all this above-ground construction is happening, the real lifeblood of the hospital is being installed more covertly. Utilities like electricity, running water, sewage, and internet, are all super important for any hospital and were mostly installed by specialized state-owned and private companies like Lenovo and Huawei.

Back above ground the rest of the prefabricated elements like windows, doors, and room modules the size of shipping containers, are starting to be put together.

Once those are stacked up, outer support, heating, and ventilation start snaking their way around the buildings.

Step 5 in building a hospital in 10 days: Build the hospital

Finally, it was time to turn the empty shell into a functioning hospital. Each patient’s room had to have 2 beds, a bathroom, and a bunch of medical equipment. The rooms were also made to keep a negative pressure inside so that quarantined and possible infected air could be constantly managed by the ventilation system.

To keep the likelihood of contamination as low as possible, 2-sided cabinets were installed in each room so that staff could deliver supplies to patients without even entering their vicinity.

Besides the patient rooms, 30 intensive care units and multiple areas for processing, diagnosing, and management were quickly built into the hospital.

Over the last couple of days before the deadline, medical equipment is installed, all systems are tested, and hundreds of military medical staff are shipped in to set up shop.

And then the day comes, February 3rd, 2020, and as promised Huoshenshan Hospital, a fully staffed, fully operational, 60,000 square meter, 1,000-bed facility opens and starts treating its first patients in what 10 days ago was just another muddy field outside Wuhan China.

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