By Linda Lew – The Korea Times
China has converted a stadium and two convention centres in the central Chinese city of Wuhan into makeshift hospitals, creating 3,800 more beds for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms and suspected cases.
Authorities are planning to build eight more of the temporary medical facilities and are mobilising medical teams and equipment reserved for emergencies in 20 provinces to go to Wuhan to staff the centres, according to official media.
These provincial medical teams, or “mobile healthcare modules”, are medical reserve personnel in each province for emergencies such as natural disasters. Each is equipped with medics, X-ray vehicles, outpatient clinics, and other mobile equipment.
Jiao Yahui, deputy director of the National Health Commission’s Medical Administration Bureau, said the government was hoping that by isolating patients and suspected cases with mild symptoms, the spread of the illness would decline.
“By isolating and treating contagious patients in centralised areas, it can greatly reduce the risk of spread the disease in the community,” Jiao said.
In addition to the 600 medics in these teams, the government is also sending 1,400 nurses from throughout the country to work at the new facilities.
Due to a shortage of beds, a large number of patients have been told to isolate themselves at home.
Jiao said it was also important to treat patients in the early stages as the high mortality rate in Wuhan showed that delayed treatment could worsen the severity and mortality rate of the illness.
Qiu Haibo from the commission’s expert panel, agreed, saying that “reducing the number of mild cases that develop into a serious or critical condition is a priority”.
Oshitani Hitoshi, professor of virology at Tohoku University in Japan, said it was impossible to stop the spread of the virus so it was better to try to reduce the severity of the cases.
“I don’t think containment is a feasible option for this virus … Our goal should be to minimise the impact of the virus by saving severe cases,” he said.
He said it as understandable that the authorities had asked patients to isolate themselves at homes.
“Unlike with Sars, it is not feasible to isolate all cases. It may pose a certain risk of household transmission. But there is no other option. We are in a similar situation with pandemic influenza,” he said, referring to severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The novel coronavirus, which began spreading in December, has killed 427 people and sickened more than 20,600 globally as of Tuesday, surpassing the toll from the 2002-03 Sars epidemic. However, more than 660 coronavirus patients have recovered.
The NHC said the death rate for confirmed coronavirus cases was 2.1 per cent for mainland China and 3.1 per cent for Hubei province, where the first cases emerged. Most of the cases were mild, it said.
The mortality rate for Sars was around 10 per cent.
A Wuhan doctor seconded to one of the new medical centres said the operations of the facilities would be led by local doctors, with medical workers from other parts of the country providing support.
“The doctor-to-patient ratio in the shelters does not need to be high. We will take in mild cases while Huoshenshan and Leishenshan hospitals will focus on those in severe or critical conditions,” he said.
Huoshenshan and Leishenshan are two temporary military hospitals built to treat coronavirus patients in Wuhan. Huoshenshan, built in eight days, has begun taking patients while Leishenshan will open within days.
Urban management officers had been mobilised to help set up the shelters and oversee security, the doctor said.
Despite the increased capacity, Wuhan residents worry the new facilities may not be enough, issuing an online appeal for commercial spaces to be converted into treatment centres on social media on Tuesday.
Shopkeeper Zhang Fang suggested that thousands of empty shops be used for coronavirus patients, online news site Hongxing News reported.
“If our country needs us, we would like to provide the storefronts for medical uses,” Zhang was quoted as saying.