UK opens new hospital erected in conference centre to fight coronavirus

Members of the Military outside the NHS Nightingale hospital as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain April 2, 2020. Photo/REUTERS

LONDON: A new hospital, built in under two weeks in a conference centre in London to provide thousands of extra beds to treat those who have contracted coronavirus, open its doors on Friday.

The Nightingale Hospital, which will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen with the capacity increased to treat about 4,000 patients, has been created in the Excel Exhibition Centre in the Docklands area of east London, near the River Thames.

Built with help from the military, it is the first of six new temporary hospitals to be set up across the country to cope with the outbreak. So far, 2,921 people who have tested positive for the COVID-19 in Britain have died.

"It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight," said Simon Stevens, chief executive of the National Health Service (NHS).

"The NHS, working with the military, has done in a matter of days what usually takes years."

The Excel Centre, which has more than 900,000 sq feet (83,613 sq metres) of exhibition space, normally hosts industry events for sectors like defence, travel, hospitality and property. During the 2012 London Olympics it was used for a sports such as boxing, fencing and weightlifting.

The new hospital will be opened remotely via videolink by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, who also came out of self-isolation this week after suffering mild symptoms of coronavirus.

The temporary hospitals are been built to prevent Britain's stretched National Health Service from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients with the number of those requiring treatment expected to peak in the next few weeks.

Health chiefs have also urgently appealed to workers without clinical qualifications to come forward to help run the Nightingale, which will require thousands of staff.

London has been the worst affected area in the country but further hospitals will also open in Manchester and Birmingham, in northwest and central England, to provide an extra 3,000 beds. Further facilities will also be set up in Bristol, in the southwest, and Harrogate, in the northeast.

Another temporary hospital will also be built in Glasgow in Scotland which will initially be able to handle 300 patients.

"The nation is facing an unprecedented global emergency and we are taking exceptional measures to ensure the NHS has whatever it needs to tackle this virus," Health Minister Matt Hancock said.