How Did China Build A Hospital In 10 Days
How Did China Build A Hospital In 10 Days
Construction is one of the most collaborative industries in the world. Even before the first stone is set, tens of people have made various contributions. There are the architects — designers of the physical space. There are the civil engineers, who design the less-glamorous — but equally necessary — diagrams and figures that ensure the structure’s physical integrity. Then there’s always the client. Whether the client is a person or a corporation — or, in the case of coronavirus, one of the world’s most powerful governments — they always have requirements, they always have suggestions, they always have their own vision. And once the actual construction starts, the complexity increases manifold. There are the workers on site — those who carry the load and those who operate machines. There are supervisors. There are contractors. There are the suppliers of raw materials, machinery, tools. All in all, constructing any one building, or a house, or an office space — or, in this case, a hospital — is a delicate dance that requires the coordination of upto thousands of people.
This is why it’s such a shock — a pleasant one, to be sure — that China managed to construct a hospital under 10 days. In less than 10 days, as a matter of fact. A fully-built, fully-equipped hospital rose from nothing. And it’s not like they had a design from before, or that they had set the foundation, or that they only made cosmetic changes to a pre-existing structure. No — everything from the initial design to the finishing touches happened under 10 days.
How did they pull this off? And more importantly — why did they have to?
In one word: coronavirus. It’s a novel virus of unknown origins that proves fatal to those with weakened immune systems. Some experts think that China’s open-air, multi-species markets could’ve been the breeding ground for such a virus. The virus has a incubation period of 2 weeks — that is, it spreads to another person without that person showing any symptoms for half a month. This makes the infected people really hard to quarantine. They go about their normal lives, interacting with their family and friends — as well as with strangers — and they spread the virus without knowing that they are carriers.
And then the coughing starts. And then the fever sets in. And then the pneumonia begins.
China, therefore, built a hospital to rapidly respond to this growing world-wide health crisis. When we first heard about the plan to build 2 — yes, 2 — new hospitals from the ground up in 10 days, we got confused. Why build a new hospital — why not make changes to an existing hospital? Especially since coronavirus spreads so quickly and is so dangerous, wouldn’t making changes to an existing building make more sense, given the timelines?
But here’s the thing: minor changes were not enough. Corona is a unique virus that has never been seen before. For a hospital building to deal with it, it needed some unique features that the normal hospitals won’t have. The distinct architectural features of these 2 new hospitals are discussed below.
China has pulled off something like this before. In 2003, when the SARS epidemic broke out, the Chinese authorities built a hospital in 7 days flat. Similarly, when the Ebola epidemic broke out in 2011, a 200-bed hospital was created in a month in Africa. That seems slow in comparison to the astonishing industriousness and pace of the Chinese. But the Ebola hospital and the Chinese hospitals share a lot of features in common.
Let’s talk about how the Chinese pulled this off, exactly. Three factors played a major role:
- One can argue that corona is a novel virus that brought out the novel benefits of a dictatorship. It is doubtful whether China’s rapid construction can be imitated in a democracy. But in China, the Communist Party’s unlimited power and authority took care of all financial approval and permits for these hospitals in one fell swoop. A centralized system of government does make decision-making faster. There are no committees to go through.
2. These two hospitals in Wuhan were built very much like a lego structure. Prefabricated units were brought to the construction site and put together through a massive force of men and machines that worked nonstop, day and night. Normally, when a construction is erected, a foundation under the ground is laid first. The superstructure over the ground follows next. China, however, built both at the same time. Prefabricated units made this possible.
3. Good old financial incentives played a big role, as well. Even though China is officially a communist state, they are not afraid to use capitalist incentives when they are beneficial. The Wuhan government offered large per-day wages to attract workers and make sure they stuck around despite the gruelling work hours. A Popular Mechanics report noted that the “the city is paying workers as much as 1,200 yuan (about $173) per day in an attempt to quicken the pace.” That’s more than ₹12,000 per day.
The hospitals were built in a very particular way. Here are some unique features of the two hospitals:
- The wisdom of separation: The drone images of one of the hospitals show parallel, self-contained wards. Inside the hospital, patients will be sorted by the severity of the infection. Then, inside the same ward, patients will be further sorted by age, health, and conditions like previous illnesses and pregnancies. This allows the hospital staff to optimize their treatments and more importantly, stop the cross-movement of the virus. For instance, those who have been quarantined for precautionary purposes should not share hall-space with those who are confirmed carriers.
2. The Central command is not in the centre: Paradoxically, the central command for the building won’t be in the centre. The central space is the one that will be the most vulnerable as infections might come from any direction. In the central command, the doctors need to do analytical work, look at scans, conduct research, and plan treatments. They cannot wear insulated suits as they do all of this — those suits are far more uncomfortable than they look, and can only be worn for short-periods of time. Even though this has not been officially confirmed by the authorities, certain healthcare construction experts are postulating that the central command may actually be located in a completely separate structure disconnected from the main hospital.
3. The importance of entry and exit signs: Ideally, a doctor should move from the least infected wards to the most infected ones. If the movement is reversed, then he could be carrying the virus from infected patients to non-infected ones. To avoid this, a lot of importance was placed on designing efficient cross-movement spaces and putting the entry and exit signs in the right places.
The two hospitals are called Huoshenshan and Leishenshan — both named after Chinese Gods. Huoshenshan is a God of fire, and Leishenshan is a God of Thunder — and they are both known to melt any metal. In the Chinese mythology, the lungs are made out of metallic elements, and Corona is a respiratory virus. Therefore the dual deities of Huoshenshan and Leishenshan have been invoked to help the Chinese people in this hour of need. We are inspired by the construction achievements powering China’s fight-back against the virus. There’s a lot to learn from in the speed at which the hospitals were built — and all the details they managed to get right.