MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has repurposed a Formula One racetrack, converted a huge convention center and put hundreds of beds into military barracks to create new hospital space to ease the strain on its health system in the mounting coronavirus pandemic.
Mexico’s coronavirus death toll has leapt 14-fold since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador first declared the country had “tamed” the pandemic on April 26.
Mexico has logged almost 160,000 cases and more than 19,000 fatalities, the seventh-highest total worldwide.
To prevent the system from collapsing, authorities in the epicenter of the outbreak, Mexico City, have scrambled to conjure up additional capacity to meet surging demand as the country tries to exit lockdown and revive the economy.
“This health emergency is really a kind of natural disaster,” said Lieutenant Colonel Raul Sandoval, who oversees one of the provisional hospitals.
The Mexican army, which has a tradition of providing humanitarian aid after earthquakes and hurricanes, reconditioned three barracks into clinics, and added 400 hospital beds.
Meanwhile, the navy built so-called voluntary isolation centers in the city to house patients with mild symptoms.
And authorities put another 200 beds in a temporary hospital inside an convention center and established a similar clinic at a racetrack typically used for Formula One and rock concerts.
At one of the converted barracks, dozens of convalescing patients, some hooked up to supplemental oxygen, are treated by a team of 100 civilian and military doctors. The makeshift clinic has X-ray machines and a laboratory for taking samples.
Last week, almost half of its 100 beds were occupied by patients, mostly civilians sent there from other hospitals.
“(Either) the patient gets better and is discharged,” said Sandoval. “Or if there are complications and they need intensive therapy or intubation, they’re sent to another place.”
The requisition of unconventional spaces for medical use appears to have helped the capital avoid a collapse in its hospitals as cases numbers surged in May and June.
As of this week, some 74% of the 4,677 general public hospital beds and 59% of the 1,893 intensive care beds with ventilators were occupied in Mexico City, official data show.
That is a slightly lower level of occupation that in recent weeks.
Health experts say Mexico may be close to the peak of new infections, but the government has repeatedly had to walk back its forecasts for when that would occur.
Still, amid the bustle of doctors and nurses rushing back and forth between the rows of hospital beds of the Sixth Mortar Battalion, optimism is spreading.
“Thank God, I feel much better,” said Martha Ruiz, a 53-year-old housewife who caught coronavirus from her husband and has been recovering in the women’s pavilion for two weeks. “Hopefully I can be discharged soon.”
Reporting by Noe Torres; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Dave Graham and Alistair Bell