LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Prince Charles remotely opened a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients at London’s main exhibition center Friday that can accommodate up to 4,000 people as the number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in the U.K.. surpassed China’s official total.
As confirmed virus cases and deaths continued to steeply rise, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he remained in isolation with a fever eight days after he tested positive for the new virus.
Charles, who on Monday completed a week of self-isolating while recovering from COVID-19, said via video link that he was “enormously touched” to be asked to open the new Nightingale Hospital, which was built in just over a week at the vast ExCel conference center in east London.
The prince paid tribute to everyone, including military personnel, involved in its “spectacular and almost unbelievable” nine-day construction.
“An example, if ever one was needed, of how the impossible could be made possible and how we can achieve the unthinkable through human will and ingenuity,” he said from his home in Scotland, Birkhall.
The new National Health Service hospital will only care for people with COVID-19, and patients will only be assigned there after their local London hospital reaches its capacity. Officials have said it will initially have 500 beds and can expand to 4,000, if needed.
Prince Charles described himself as one of “the lucky ones” with only mild symptoms but noted “for some it will be a much harder journey.”
He expressed his hope that the hospital “is needed for as short a time and for as few people as possible.”
The hospital is named after Florence Nightingale, who is widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing. She was in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War of the 1850s, her selfless care earning her the reputation as the “Lady with the Lamp.”
Further new hospitals are being planned across the U.K., including in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester, to alleviate the pressure on the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In these troubled times with this invisible killer stalking the whole world, the fact in this country we have the NHS is even more valuable that before,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who also contracted COVID-19 and emerged from his own self-isolation on Thursday.
Hancock said the peak of the epidemic in Britain is likely to be in the “coming weeks” and could be as soon as next weekend.
The number of virus-related deaths in Britain has sharply increased in the past two weeks. Government figures provided Friday showed that a total of 3,605 people who tested positive have died in British hospitals, an increase of 684 from a day earlier.
The government’s updated count would make the U.K. the latest country with a higher death toll from the worldwide pandemic than China, which according to a Johns Hopkins University tally officially reported 3,326 deaths from the outbreak that emerged there in December.
Like many other countries, Britain is in effective lockdown, with bars and nonessential shops closed in order to reduce the rate of transmission, the hope being that it will eventually reduce the peak in deaths.
In a video message, the prime minister warned people not to break the self-isolation rules on what is expected to be a warm, sunny weekend.
Johnson acknowledged that “everybody may be getting a bit stir crazy” but urged Britons not to flout rules against gathering in groups. He said “this country has made a huge effort, a huge sacrifice” and people should continue to follow the rules in order to save lives.
Johnson, who appeared flushed and red-eyed in the video, has been working from quarantine in his Downing Street apartment since testing positive for the virus on March 26. He continues to hold daily meetings on the virus crisis by video conference.
Johnson said Friday that although he is “feeling better,” he still had a fever and is following guidance to stay in isolation until his temperature returns to normal.