(DAILY MAIL) – Britain’s major entertainment venues today ‘stand ready’ to be transformed into field hospitals to cope with an influx of coronavirus patients.
The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) near Birmingham, located off the M42 motorway, has 18 exhibition halls and plays host to dozens of high-profile conferences and shows each year, including Crufts.
Bosses at the venue, close to Birmingham Airport, have said they ‘stand ready’ to help the NHS ‘with immediate effect’ if the call comes from the Government.
The NHS Birmingham and Solihull clinical commissioning group said a ‘national announcement’ was expected, but was unable to give any further details.
Footage has also revealed how the ExCel Centre in East London is becoming a 4,000-bed field hospital with two emergency morgues as nearby City Airport closes to civilian flights so that military planes can fly in and out.
A worker shared sobering video from inside the exhibition hall where work started yesterday as the Ministry of Defence and NHS create the new hospital from scratch to accommodate rising numbers of Covid-19 patients.
The exhibition centre in East London will become the NHS Nightingale Hospital, with ventilators and oxygen at every bedside and should be up and running by Saturday, April 4. Military medics will also be working to treat patients on the site.
In a statement, NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi said: ‘As a cornerstone of the local community, we are committed to playing our part in ensuring the health and wellbeing of everyone in our area.
‘As such, we stand ready and willing to help our emergency services – especially at a time like this.
‘The NEC is well equipped to be used as a support base if such need arises so please be assured, that if we are requested to do so, we can action this with immediate effect.
‘We are and have been in constant communication with the local NHS Trust, police and fire service, and the services are fully aware of the capabilities of the venue.
‘We will do our utmost to support the effort in combating the virus.’
A worker yesterday posted video on social media showing the main arena of the 100-acre waterside ExCel site, which will become a hospital ward spanning one kilometre.
In his clip, he warns viewers: ‘To be fair, I didn’t take this virus very seriously until I saw this this morning. There will be two morgues here. If you’re not taking it seriously like I wasn’t you really need to start. Because they’re preparing for a high death toll here.’
Just two miles away across the River, London City Airport has suspended all private and commercial flights to support the national effort. It will now be used by the government, with the RAF seen using it for training yesterday.
Soldiers in fatigues were spotted at the exhibition and conference centre’s loading bays in east London’s former Royal Victoria Docks site this morning, while a number of large vans and forklift trucks were also seen going onto the site.
The move – similar to the creation of the 1,000-bed field hospital seen in Wuhan, China, earlier in the crisis – is aimed at treating thousands of coronavirus patients as regular hospitals come under greater pressure.