The government of Wuhan — the Chinese city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — has been rushing to construct two emergency hospitals to cope with an influx of patients. In an unprecedented move, Chinese authorities invited the public to watch the construction through a livestreaming broadcast, which at its peak attracted around 40 million people.
Since January 28, viewers on YouTube and many Chinese streaming sites have been watching a live feed of the hospital construction that is devoid of perspective changes or background music. Despite this unimaginative presentation, the footage has had a strong appeal for Chinese viewers, who were restricted from outdoor activities during the Chinese New Year holiday because of the disease. On the first day of the stream, a staggering 40 million people tuned in to watch in real time.
Per the People’s Daily (in Chinese), Wuhan officials announced the construction of the Huoshenshan Hospital (火神山医院 huǒshénshānyīyuàn), the first pop-up medical facility during the ongoing public health crisis, on January 23, the same day that the central government put a lockdown on the city. The hospital is expected to have a capacity of 1,000 beds in 33,900 square meters when it opens on February 3.
The construction of the second pop-up clinic, Leishenshan Hospital (雷神山医院 léishénshānyīyuàn), was announced on January 25. Roughly 25 miles away from the other hospital, Leishenshan is slated to hold approximately 1,300 beds and open on February 5.
This is not the first time China has built medical facilities that usually take years for other countries to complete. In 2003, in response to an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Beijing put together the Xiaotangshan Hospital from scratch in just seven days. Erected by 7,000 workers, the hospital ended up hosting about one-seventh of the country’s SARS patients during the crisis. The clinic closed about two months after China declared victory over the epidemic.
In fact, in order to accelerate the construction of Huoshenshan and Leishenshan, Chinese government leaders noted that both facilities were modeled on Xiaotangshan, which was mainly made of prefabricated materials. Chinese media are also reporting (in Chinese) that construction workers are being paid three times their usual wages because of the ambitious deadlines.