Nidhi Adlakha on how our hostels, hotels and convention centres can be put into action to tackle the Covid-19 crisis
In early February this year, as doctors in Wuhan were grappling with the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese engineers sprung into action to build a 1,000-bed hospital in all of ten days. The two-storey, 366,000-square-foot Huoshenshan Hospital was built in record time and soon, the Leishenshan Hospital was built in a parking lot in the same manner. The Wuhan Living Room Temporary Hospital, inspired by the prefab hospital built in Beijing during the 2003 SARS outbreak, was a former convention hall. Soon, exhibition venues and gymnasiums were converted to create 16 makeshift hospitals in Wuhan (now closed).
With hospitals running at full capacity, these much-talked about engineering feats are in the news. Taking a cue from China, cities across the globe are now looking at constructing makeshift hospitals to cope with the rising number of cases. New York is considering reusing convention centres and university campuses, and authorities in Moscow are rushing to complete the ‘Chinese-inspired’ hospital on the city’s outskirts in a month. Even Kolkata has converted a stadium in Dumurjola into a 150-bed quarantine area. So why not Chennai, known for its thriving medical tourism industry.
On March 24, the State government announced that the Omandurar Government Multispeciality Hospital on Mount Road would be converted into a special facility for COVID-19 patients. Bed capacity is being scaled up, and a task force of medical professionals is being organised. But we must now also look at untapped avenues such as hostels, five-star hotels, etc. “If initiated, it will be great; there are no two ways about it,” says an official of the Corporation of Chennai (CoC).
SN Subrahmanyan, CEO and MD, Larsen and Toubro, announced this week that the construction company could build a hospital from scratch in record time, and also convert existing structures such as warehouses, marriage halls, etc., into hospitals if needed. “We have sent out proposals to various State governments and appraised them of our capabilities,” says Subrahmanyan, adding, “The hall will first be enclosed using specific techniques and materials. We will then install air conditioners, then electrical and plumbing work will be done, and partitions will be built to create segregated areas.”
An earlier snapshot of the Huoshenshan temporary field hospital under construction
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As the crisis deepens in India, several citizen groups have been discussing the idea of utilising existing infrastructure rather than construct new hospitals. “India’s [currently] vacant hostels that amount to over 2 lakh rooms can definitely be converted into recuperating rooms, as well as the 3- and 5-star hotels. Hostels are located in universities sprawled across acres, and are equipped with beds and bathrooms,” says a source. “It will take 10-15 days to get them running – far lesser time than building a hospital from scratch,” he adds.
The CoC official adds that as we have existing structures, we can save time on constructing a foundation, getting labour organised, etc. “These can be temporary structures as we have seen in China. If planned well, using the expertise of architects and spatial planners, many public places can be used as hospitals and quarantine centres,” he says. “Marriage halls, convention venues and other buildings can be upgraded into hospitals.”
Considering the urgency of the situation, facilities that are available and ready for emergency and medical purposes are the need of the hour, says Rajesh Gurumurthy, Senior Director, Head – Strategic Consulting, Tamil Nadu & Sri Lanka, at Jones Lang LaSalle. “Hotel rooms could make for ideal makeshift isolated hospital wards. In addition, certain government and public buildings such as auditoriums, exhibition and trade centres, and government-owned guest houses can be used. These structures can be isolated easily when compared to other public infrastructure,” he says, adding that private hospitals too could function under the direction of the government during this crisis.
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