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Hospital built in nine days opens in UK

April 3, 2020

Prince Charles has opened what could become the world's largest critical care unit to treat coronavirus patients. The hospital, built inside a London conference center, will need 16,000 staff if it reaches full capacity.

NHS Nightingale hospital entrance in London
Image: Reuters/S. Rousseau

The UK on Friday opened a temporary hospital to deal with an expected surge in coronavirus patients needing critical care.

The 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital — named after the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale — was built in just nine days inside the London ExCel convention center in the east of the British capital.

Prince Charles conducted the opening ceremony by video link from his Scottish home, calling the new facility "a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of work.”

He said he hoped the hospital would only be needed for a short time and by as few people as possible.

Read more: Berlin to build 1,000-bed coronavirus hospital

'Shining light'

Queen Elizabeth's eldest son and heir to the throne added that he hoped that "in these dark times," the hospital would be a "shining light."

Charles was, until this week, in self-isolation after testing positive for the virus, but suffering only mild symptoms.

The government drafted in hundreds of army engineers to help contractors to build the facility so quickly and says it will need 16,000 staff, including thousands more volunteers if it reaches full capacity.

Initially, 500 beds have been put in place. But if all 80 wards are occupied, the hospital will become the world's largest critical care unit, treating 4,000 patients.

More hospitals being built

NHS Nightingale is the first of several hospitals being built in Britain to deal with the country's worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Other critical care units are being set up in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow.

The UK has more than 34,000 confirmed infections and 2,946 people have died, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

Several other countries, including Italy, Spain and the United States, have built or are building temporary hospitals to prevent their health systems from being overrun by COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care.

Read more:  Opinion: Boris Johnson's coronavirus meltdown

Berlin joins the race

Germany has announced plans for a 1,000-bed field hospital on the grounds of a convention center in Berlin.

The Berlin government said on Friday it would also oblige hospitals nationwide to reveal their spare ICU capacity. Until now, registration for an online scheme has been voluntary and only a third of medical facilities have shared their details.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged in December, built several temporary hospitals at the height of its health emergency.

The units closed in mid-March as strict lockdown measures help reduce the spread of the virus and the burden on the city's healthcare system.

mm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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