Construction of the first of two much-awaited makeshift hospitals in Wuhan finished in just 10 days and was handed over to the military on Sunday night, raising hopes among desperate Wuhan residents that it will help ease the acute bed crunch in the besieged city.
Huoshenshan started admitting its first patients yesterday, after the People's Liberation Army took control and deployed 1,400 medics to run the 1,000-bed facility, which specifically treats patients with the coronavirus.
Another makeshift hospital, Lei-shenshan, will be completed tomorrow and will provide 1,600 beds.
But with infection numbers jumping by the thousands a day, and many of the sick stuck at home unable to be tested or treated, there is a limit to how much these two hospitals can do.
Based on figures released by the Wuhan Health Commission, there are 6,641 beds in 23 hospitals designated to treat the virus in the city. As of last Friday, only 389 beds were available.
Meanwhile, there have been around 2,000 new infections a day in Hubei alone in the past week. Hubei province now has more than 11,000 confirmed patients, of which 350 have died and only 295 have made a recovery.
Renowned epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan acknowledged that it was "very dangerous" that the shortage of beds was forcing suspected patients or those with mild symptoms to go home.
"The hospital will relieve the pressure on the existing designated hospitals," he said in an interview with Chinese media.
Huoshenshan Hospital, which spans 33,900 sq m, will be run as an infectious disease hospital modelled after Xiaotangshan Hospital, a makeshift facility built on the outskirts of Beijing in 2003 to battle the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) pandemic.
Professor Florian Krammer, who researches viruses and virology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said China is "making a herculean effort" to contain the spread of the disease, "but it is not clear if the virus can be stopped at this stage any more or if it will become a pandemic".
Reports of sick people being turned away after queueing for hours have put the spotlight on the dire situation in the city.
With testing kits in severe shortage and hospitals treating only the critically ill, many of the infected reportedly end up going home, and some die there.
So severe is the bed crunch that the authorities on Sunday ordered that hotels be converted to treatment centres.
Yesterday, Mr Tian Yulong, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said daily output of test kits had reached 773,000 by last Saturday, which is "equivalent to 40 times that of suspected patients".
"Generally speaking, the situation has been greatly alleviated. We would describe it as a state of 'tight balance'," he told reporters when asked about the scarcity of medical supplies such as face masks and protective suits.
Meanwhile, the Wuhan and Hubei Red Cross have drawn flak from the media and netizens for failing to get critical supplies to hospitals that had run out of them.
At least two million masks had been donated to the humanitarian organisation from across the country, but only 200,000 were reportedly delivered to hospitals, some of which did not need them, while the rest were sitting in a warehouse.
The Red Cross apologised for its mismanagement, blaming a lack of manpower because of the Chinese New Year holiday.