What China’s empty new coronavirus hospitals say about its secretive systemHow to build a hospital in 10 days.
China’s two new hospitals built in as many weeks were the official face of its fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan. As the city was locked down, authorities promised that thousands of doctors would be on hand to treat 2,600 patients on the facilities’ wards.
Timelapse videos tracked the almost incomprehensibly fast construction of the hospitals, and state media celebrated their opening in early February. The only thing missing a week later? Patients.
Four days after its opening, the larger Leishenshan hospital had only 90 patients, on wards designed for 1,600, but was reporting no spare beds, Wuhan city health data, first reported by the Chinese magazine Caixin, showed. The other facility, Huoshenshan, had not yet filled its 1,000 beds a week after opening.
The gulf between the vision of vast new hospitals created and thrown into action within days and the more complicated reality on the ground is a reminder of one of the main challenges for Beijing as it struggles to contain the coronavirus: its own secretive, authoritarian system of government and its vast censorship and propaganda apparatus.
Meanwhile, the city was setting up emergency hospitals in exhibition halls and a sports stadium, and medics were still turning some ill people away. China has the world’s largest army but it has not deployed any field hospitals to Wuhan.
Even when the government reversed course and announced a crisis, it appeared to be focused on managing its image as well as the disease, he said. It could have deployed medics and a field hospital to Wuhan almost overnight rather than building new hospitals.
It is unclear why they chose not to do so. But a country setting up field hospitals looks like one in crisis. A government expanding hospitals looks like one in control. “Ten days is a very long time when you are looking at a public health crisis like that,” Tsang said. “But a new hospital built from the ground up, that’s a world record.”