China has completed the concept design of a floating hospital to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The “Emergency Medical Aid Ship”, which would be able to handle coronavirus cases and patients with similar contagious respiratory diseases, was designed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation’s Institute 701, a research unit based in Wuhan – ground zero of the outbreak – that also designs warships.
“The ship should effectively deal with unknown infectious diseases such as Covid-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus], with a brand new medical protection protocol and arrangement of personnel, materials, fuel, ventilation, waste and sewage,” the institute’s official social media account said.
China has only one hospital ship, the 14,000-tonne Daishandao, which is operated by the People’s Liberation Army Navy and used mainly for overseas humanitarian missions under the name “Peace Ark”.
Daishandao has about 300 beds, including 20 for intensive care and 10 for quarantine, but focuses on conventional medical services for non-infectious illnesses and injuries, with no specific capacity for contagious diseases.
The new ship, once built, would be able to provide medical help abroad during an epidemic, as well as be used for evacuations. The design of its quarantine functions could also be modularised and replicated on Chinese warships, said Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator.
“The ship’s key feature would be its quarantine capacity to prevent cross-infection,” Song said.
“I think in the future, warships will add contagion prevention modules. In the case of an infectious disease outbreak at sea, patients could be put into the quarantine module to prevent further spread.”
Institute 701 has designed most of the Chinese navy’s surface vessels, aircraft carriers and submarines.
The project task force had to overcome a number of challenges posed by Wuhan’s lockdown and strict self-isolation policies, which saw the team work online from home.
The designers drew lessons from two temporary field hospitals in Wuhan built in less than 10 days each to cope with the outbreak, and from the cluster of infections on cruise ship Diamond Princess, to improve compartmentation of cabins and space, the institute report said.
Cruise ships are hotbeds of virus transmission, with many people having close contact in limited spaces. Many inside cabins also rely on air-conditioning systems, which are believed to help viruses spreading via droplets in the air.
The industry has been seriously hurt by a string of coronavirus cluster cases in recent weeks.
“If the [floating hospital] design can be adopted by cruise ships, it would also be a great business opportunity,” Song said.
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