The military hospital inside the Campo Militar No 1 in Mexico City, Mexico, June 9 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO
The military hospital inside the Campo Militar No 1 in Mexico City, Mexico, June 9 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO

Mexico City — Mexico has repurposed a Formula One (F1) racetrack, converted a huge convention centre, 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 Covid-19 death toll has leapt 14-fold since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador  first declared the country had “tamed” the pandemic on April 26.

Mexico has recorded almost 160,000 cases and more than 19,000 fatalities, the seventh-highest total worldwide.

To prevent the system from collapsing, authorities in the epicentre of the outbreak, Mexico City, have scrambled to conjure up additional capacity to meet surging demand as the country tries to exit its lockdown and revive the economy.

“This health emergency is really a kind of natural disaster,” said Lt-Col 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 voluntary isolation centres in the city to house patients with mild symptoms.

And authorities put another 200 beds in a temporary hospital inside a convention centre and established a similar clinic at a racetrack typically used for F1 races 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 case numbers surged in May and June.

As of this week, some 74% of the 4,677 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 as to 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 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.” 

Reuters