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    In Northeast China, a New ‘Fangcang’ Hospital Sparks Public Uproar

    During the pandemic, hundreds of temporary “fangcang” hospitals were built to meet urgent needs. The proposed construction of a new one has raised concerns about the necessity of building hospitals designed for emergencies.

    Amid the ongoing debate over abandoned medical facilities built across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, a city in northeastern China has found itself in the middle of controversy over the construction of a new fangcang facility. 

    Shelter hospitals, known as fangcang in Chinese, were initially set up as makeshift quarantine and treatment centers during the height of the pandemic. After China scrapped all pandemic restrictions last December, many cities were left burdened with similar makeshift hospitals. 

    On Tuesday, a video surfaced showing residents in Jiamusi City, Heilongjiang province, expressing doubts about the use of a piece of land to construct a new fangcang hospital near a residential compound, as indicated on a signboard. 

    The signboard revealed that the medical site would cover an area of approximately 6,400 square meters and was designated for public health and social welfare purposes.

    And according to a notice on the official website, plans for the fangcang hospital project include a scheduled bid this month, with an estimated construction cost of approximately 42 million yuan ($5.8 million). Another official document indicated that the construction is targeted to be completed by the end of 2024, with the facility boasting 425 beds and over 100 pieces of medical equipment.

    While the video quickly garnered attention online, a member of staff from the city’s natural resource and planning bureau told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, Tuesday that the facility’s intended use would be as a hotel or for other tourism-related purposes. 

    The project’s name wasn’t changed because it was funded from a state fund allocated for combating the epidemic.

    Replying to The Paper later the same day, officials said they were planning to build a first aid and training center, since the project is aimed at “elevating the city’s medical capabilities.” The bureau did not respond to Sixth Tone’s request for comment. 

    On social media, netizens questioned the necessity of the site and the massive spending involved.

    Makeshift fangcang hospitals were largely built to meet immediate medical treatment and quarantine demands during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were converted from other facilities such as schools and gyms, while others were built from scratch.

    According to government data, as of April 2022, nearly 400 fangcang hospitals were either built or under construction across the country. The ongoing construction has led many to question the necessity of building makeshift hospitals originally intended only for emergency situations.

    “I woke up in the morning thinking I had misread it (the news), and I felt like I was dreaming,” read one comment on the microblogging platform Weibo.

    An official audit report in the southern Hainan province showed that nearly 5,586 isolation wards, 200 air conditioning units, televisions, and 665 nucleic acid testing booths — in all, worth almost 400 million yuan — were left unused or forgotten. 

    Additionally, prevention supplies worth around 61 million yuan were either close to expiring or had already expired.

    In 2022, the southern Guangdong province spent 71.1 billion yuan on pandemic-related projects — the highest among provinces that made their data public.

    Despite the uncertainty over the future use of such projects, concerns persist about using the name fangcang for open tenders. The continued use of the term has raised questions about transparency and adherence to proper procedures when repurposing these facilities for non-pandemic purposes.

    Writing in The Paper, commentator Long Zhizhu emphasized that even if there is a need to construct cultural and tourism facilities, a new application should be submitted. 

    “While the project’s disclosure under the name of fangcang may appear fair and transparent, any failure to adhere to the necessary adjustment procedures could raise suspicions of irregularities,” he wrote. 

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: VCG)