A Chinese city ravaged by a new deadly virus is planning to build a dedicated coronavirus hospital in six days in a desperate bid to stop an outbreak of the life-threatening infection, it has been revealed.
The government of Wuhan, a major city by the Yangtze River with a population of 11million, has ordered a state-run construction company to design and build the emergency facility in Caidian District, according to Chinese media.
The institution will reportedly be modelled on a six-acre temporary treatment centre, which was built in Beijing in seven days to tackle SARS in 2003 and had 1,000 beds.
The news was disclosed by Chinese news outlet Jiemian, which is affiliated to the official Shanghai United Media Group.
The report claimed that the urgent task had been given to China Construction Third Engineering Bureau, whose employees are expected to finish designing the hospital tomorrow.
More information of the facility is yet to be released, but the article said it would comprise one-to-two-storey prefab houses.
Wuhan health authorities said today that the number of fever patients had surged and hospitals were seeing long queues and facing shortage of beds.
The news came as a leading virologist who helped tackle the SARS epidemic in Asia in 2003 warned that the new coronavirus could lead to an outbreak at least 10 times worse than 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed 775 people.
Dr Guan Yi, director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong, confessed to Chinese media that the situation in Wuhan - where the virus originated - was already 'uncontrollable'.
He also claimed that the Chinese authorities missed the 'golden period' to control the virus and prevent it from spreading.
'I have experienced so much and never felt scared. Most [viruses] are controllable, but this time I am scared,' Dr Guan told the press, predicting the worst is yet to come.
The expert, who was in Wuhan this week, claimed he had to 'escape' from the city yesterday after noticing the 'jaw-droppingly' poor preventative measures enforced by the local authorities.
The new fatal virus, which emerged in Wuhan last month, has killed at least 17 people, sickened more than 590 and caused the central government to put the provincial capital of 11million under lockdown.
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs.
Scientists in China have recognised its similarity to SARS, which turned into a global killer between 2002 and 2003.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS Co, and first emerged in China in 2002.
By the end of a nine-month outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting more than 8,000.
Dr Guan and his team were the first to identify the SARS coronavirus during the epidemic and track down its source to wildlife, particularly the masked palm civet.
He also took the lead to urge the government to ban wildlife markets, which prevented a second outbreak of the virus.
The new virus, which can cause pneumonia, is poorly understood. Scientists now fear it may have spread to humans from snakes or bats.
In an interview with Chinese news outlet Caixin, Dr Guan feared that 'much more' people from Wuhan had been infected by the new virus than the total number of SARS cases, and many of them had already left Wuhan because of the Chinese New Year.
He doubted the effect of putting Wuhan under lockdown right now, claiming that the sources of infection had 'spread out completely'.
Wuhan, a major transport hub in central China, yesterday blocked all of its means of transport. Huanggang and Ezhou, two nearby cities, are going into lockdown today.
But Dr Guan said the locals were not paying attention to the epidemic.
'Even though the central government issued orders [to urge people] to pay high attention a couple of days ago, the local health and prevention [authorities] have not upgraded the measures at all,' he told the reporter.
A third city in China is going into lockdown as officials battle to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that has killed 17, left hundreds seriously ill and potentially infected thousands.
Major Lunar New Year events in Beijing have been cancelled, authorities in Ezhou have shut down train stations, and Huanggang has announced it will suspend public buses and trains as well as ordering cinemas and internet cafes to close their doors.
The development comes as Wuhan – the city at the centre of the outbreak – remains in lockdown, with all flights in and outbound cancelled, residents banned from leaving and scenes of chaos as desperate families fight for food supplies.
Official figures show almost 600 patients have been struck down by the disease - but scientists yesterday warned as many as 10,000 people could have been infected in Wuhan alone. Experts said they couldn't rule out the SARS-like virus already being in the UK. Others have said no virus has spread this far this quickly since SARS in 2003.
Chinese officials are disinfecting whole streets and parks with clouds of gas and chilling footage has emerged of roadside quarantine tents, hastily erected to isolate suspected cases. One resident told the BBC the atmosphere in the city felt like 'the end of the world'.
Travellers have spread the coronavirus to seven countries already, including the US. European health officials fear the never-before-seen virus will reach the continent, with the UK and other nations already on high alert.
It was revealed on Tuesday that an American man infected with the deadly virus – which Chinese officials have warned will mutate and become deadlier – came into close contact with at least 16 people before he was put in isolation.
According to health officials, the unnamed man from Washington state, who is in his 30s, wasn't diagnosed until Monday, January 20 - five days after he returned from China.
The World Health Organisation is facing increasing pressure to declare the crisis a public health emergency, like it has done for Ebola and Zika in the past. Health chiefs will meet again later today to make a final verdict.
Wuhan's Health Commission said the city is 'witnessing a fast growing trend of fever patients' and hospitals are facing bed shortages because of the virus, which has still yet to be named.
Last night British government ministers ordered a clampdown on flights from Wuhan, and took the extraordinary measure of effectively quarantining passengers from China.
The virus, which can cause pneumonia, is poorly understood. Scientists now fear it may have spread to humans from snakes or bats.
One professor yesterday warned the outbreak has a death rate similar to the global Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, which went on to kill more than 50million people. Data suggests two in 100 people who catch the virus will die.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.