Vancouver Convention Centre confirmed to become a temporary hospital

Mar 31 2020, 12:13 am

The provincial government confirmed today Vancouver Convention Centre will become a temporary hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, Daily Hive first reported health authorities were considering such a use for the landmark buildings on the downtown Vancouver waterfront, but BC Minister Health Minister Adrian Dix now says this is proceeding.

It will have an initial capacity of about 270 beds for non-coronavirus and less acute in-patient care, including those recovering from surgeries, heart attacks, injuries, and other non-COVID illnesses. It will have roughly the same number of beds as Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

This effectively assists with the provincial government’s battle with COVID-19 by freeing up bed space at well-equipped hospitals for the expected surge in coronavirus patients over the weeks and months to come.

As well, removing non-coronavirus patients from hospitals and relocating them to such facilities will reduce the risk of hospital-spread COVID-19 infection.

The convention centre is available as it is not being used due to the provincial government’s ban on gatherings of over 50 people.

The new hospital will be located within the basement exhibition hall of the convention centre’s West Building, built in 2009. The 220,500-sq-ft floor area of this space will be divided into two different patient care services, providing the required unique care needs for the patients.

Vancouver Convention Centre

Inside the exhibition hall of the West Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre. (Vancouver Convention Centre)

The open and flexible space allows for the field hospital’s size to be scalable to meet demand. Additionally, there are major road connections to this exhibition hall and its loading docks via the underground section of Waterfront Road for emergency service vehicles.

Major cities around the world hard-hit by COVID-19 have also been turning the exhibition halls of their convention centres into such overflow hospital capacity uses. Just down south in Seattle, the US military is turning the exhibition hall within the CenturyLink Field Event Center into a 248-bed temporary hospital for non-coronavirus patients.

Additionally, the newly-built patient care tower at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster will be used as additional overflow non-COVID-19 hospital capacity. It will have a capacity for about 80 beds.

This is all part of the provincial government’s strategy of temporarily converting convention facilities, community centres, and other suitable publicly-owned facilities into temporary hospitals. Last week, Mike Farnworth, the BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, asked municipal governments across the province to identify and make available such civic facilities for medical care, isolation, and testing.

ifema madrid hospital

Inside the temporary hospital at IFEMA convention centre in Madrid. (Community of Madrid)

At the moment, there are 4,233 vacant hospital beds across the province, made possible by the cancellation of thousands of elective surgeries over the past two weeks, and relocating patients with alternate level of care needs.

A total of 19 hospitals in BC are designated as the primary care facilities for COVID-19. As of today, overall hospital bed capacity in the province is 60.6% filled, while 53.7% of critical care beds are occupied.

But there is a risk this can change quickly.

Overflow hospital capacity is being added in advance as a contingency measure, given that it will likely take more than a week to set-up the temporary hospital. But as experienced in Northern Italy, the province’s worst-case scenario model of hospitalization demand, hospitals were suddenly overwhelmed by coronavirus patients in just a matter of days.

“The purpose of these alternate sites is to prepare for all scenarios,” said Dix. “To add more capacity, you need to prepare in advance. You can’t just two days from now you need a temporary hospital and put it together. In all health authorities, we’re preparing the [alternate] sites.”

BC provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry added: “We’re not putting anyone in the convention centre this week. If we start see dramatic increases in numbers of people in hospital for COVID-19 and we need to cohort them where they can all receive the critical care that is needed, then we’ll look at moving other people with other illnesses… they don’t need to be that close to critical care.”

At the moment, the provincial government is projecting a South Korea-type of epidemic, with the curve in COVID-19 patients requiring hospital care becoming relatively flat — within the constraints of the healthcare system’s capacity. More broadly, an epidemic scenario of below or at a Hubei epidemic is deemed likely.

The Northern Italy type of pandemic hospitalization scenario is significantly higher than what Hubei experienced.


An estimated number of new coronavirus cases in British Columbia, compared to other jurisdictions (Government of BC).

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Urbanized
+ Coronavirus