Backgrounder: COVID-19 outbreak

The COVID-19 is the seventh type of Corona Virus discovered in the World so far that are pathogenic to humans. Unlike MERS and SARS, or the H1N1 flu, statistics show that the death rate of the new virus is significantly lower.

However, clinical observation indicates that its incubation period for showing fever and pneumonic symptoms could take as long as two weeks, with an average of three days. What does this mean?

Imagine someone travelling around, going to meetings, gathering with family members, or merely walking on a street full of people for two weeks without knowing that he has contracted a virus that could be spread by a single cough or sneeze?

An infected individual could travel around the World in 72 hours but still not show any symptoms, yet everyone who’s been in the same space with this person or had been near is at high risk. Therefore, the longer the incubation period, the easier a virus spreads.

Although the reported death rate of the new virus is not as high as other more lethal types of coronaviruses, it could still be fatal for seniors and people who already suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or asthma, because their immune systems are more fragile, which requires great attention.

The first case of the virus was diagnosed on January 2 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, and at the time, doctors were still not certain if the virus could achieve human-to-human transmission because the source of the virus was tested on wild animals. This did not take long to confirm as cases started to grow exponentially.

The DNA chain of the new virus is 80% similar to the SARS virus in 2003, patients demonstrated similar clinical symptoms, they had similar transmission methods, even the time of the outbreak happened around the same time period, which is right before the Chinese New Year (CNY).

This presents a huge epidemic control challenge for the Chinese government. Every year the “CNY transportation rush” is reported to receive a passenger volume of almost three billion travelling back and forth their home towns for this most important annual celebration of the Chinese people.

This number is a horror story when it comes to trying to stop a fast-spreading, long incubation period, highly contagious virus. Hubei province, being an important economic centre and transportation hub for Central China, makes it even more terrifyingly possible to become a national pandemic and eventually a World pandemic.

The Chinese government is doing everything it can, mobilizing all available resources to stop the virus from spreading, sometimes even at the stake of compromising the country’s economy. Here are a few very effective actions to control the pandemic from my observations living in China:

  • China was able to map out the DNA Chain of the COVID-19 within a week of its outbreak and shared this information immediately with the WHO in order to facilitate the production of nucleic acid testing kits and confirming suspected cases of diagnosis expected to arise around the World. .
  • This year’s CNY was on January 25, the Chinese government announced the closure of Hubei Province on January 23, barred all travelling in and out of the province, except for medical teams from around the country sent to support pandemic control.
  • From Central, Provincial, and municipal governments, down to district, county, village, and residents’ committee, all levels of governments actively took stringent measures to minimize people gathering, travelling, or any person-to-person contact.
  • The original start date after coming back from CNY holidays was Feburary 1, most cities have postponed starting work by two weeks, and schools will not restart until May.
  • The Chinese government made a 24/7 channel available to deliver transparent media communications on statistics such as confirmed cases, suspected cases, severe cases and the death toll of each province and region. Reports on treatment options, medication advancements and vaccination research, among all relevant news on combatting the virus are broadcasted real-time on all media networks.
  • Each province and region sent their most sophisticated and experienced respiratory experts and medical teams to support Hubei Province. The Chinese army also sent three batches of 4000 army doctors and nurses to Hubei. These medical teams account for almost 11,000 people, and they were the only ones travelling to Hubei during the CNY.

The above measures effectively controlled the extensive outbreak of the virus around the country and minimized its expansion internationally. However, the most demanding work is still to treat and accommodate the rapid growth of confirmed cases within Wuhan and surrounding areas, where the virus was first found.

Rethink Prefabrication: How China Built Two Hospitals in Ten Days

Author’s note: Canada Wood and FII have been promoting WFC as an ideal solution for China’s drive to advance prefabricated construction technology due to its advantages in construction speed, reduced waste, and green benefits. This story seeks to examine the ultra-fast completion of two hospitals built in Wuhan for the coronavirus outbreak, in an effort to lead to some fresh insights on how WFC promotional endeavors could better cater towards China’s rapid technological advancements in construction.

 

The recent Chinese New Year of the Rat was besieged by an atmosphere of fear and distress prompted by an epidemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus that was titled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “Corona Virus Disease COVID-19.”

Since the first case was discovered in early January, to date, almost 60,000 infected cases and still around 10,000 suspected cases have been reported in Hubei, three-quarters of which are in Wuhan.

Wuhan’s usual medical resources are far from capable of taking in, testing, quarantining, and treating this many numbers of patients. At the onset of the virus outbreak, there were only 400 hospital bed spaces available daily for respiratory patients.

On January 22, Hubei announced the construction of hospitals for exclusively treating COVID-19 patients. Within a span of 14 days, Wuhan had two hospitals accommodating almost 3000-bed spaces completed.

Moreover, large public buildings, including sports stadiums, exhibition halls and schools, were refitted into 11 field medical centres, and all existing hospitals were also redesigned and renovated to provide additional bed spaces.

In merely two weeks, a rough estimate of 15,000-bed spaces was made available to patients and supporting medical teams. The speed and scale of the construction are unprecedented in a global context, how did China do it?

Let us first look at the two hospitals built from scratch in 10 days. They are called the “Huoshenshan Hospital” and the “Leishenshan Hospital,” meaning the Fire God Mountain and the Thor God Mountain respectively. Both Gods are described in ancient Chinese mythology as being able to defeat all evils, explicit of China’s determination to conquer the pandemic.

At the behest of the Central Government, Fire God Mountain started construction on January 22, shortly followed by the Thor God Mountain.

What makes it possible to coordinate what seemed to be a disarrayed bunch of people, materials, and resources and put together a hospital that has over 1000 bed spaces, equipped with fresh air system, negative pressure system, emergency wards, sewage treatment, cafeteria, water electric and gas network, and dormitory for 2000 medical workers, in merely ten days?

 

Below is a brief summary of the ten-day construction schedule for the two hospitals:

Day 1 Machinery arrive onsite, land forming 
Day 2 35,000 sqm of land forming completed
Day 3 All BIM design specs completed
Day 4 Construction site temporary assembly line ready, prefrab components arrive onsite
Day 5 Underground pipes laid, foundation poured
Day 6 4000 workers, two 12 hours shifts, assemble precast structure components and 400 prefabricated hospital wards
Day 7 Install water reservoir
Day 8 Electricity network installed, power connected
Day 9 Door and window installation and internal decor
Day 10 Internet connected, appliances installed, equipment debugging completed. Medical team arrived
Day 11 First batch of patients arrives

 

Here are some interesting yet touching details behind building the hospitals:

The hospitals started construction right before the CNY, and most workers have gone back home to celebrate with their families. The “China Construction Engineering Bureau” who took the lead in constructing the projects sent notices recruiting workers who were based in Hubei, almost 8,000 workers showed up, most of them voluntarily enrolled to show support.

A Beijing Design Institute took 78 minutes to update and complete all architectural and structural designs of the hospitals, and they were in charge of designing the Beijing Xiangtangshan SARS hospital 17 years ago.

The designs were then handed over to the projects’ designated design Institute that spent one hour on assembling 60 onsite designers and several hundred online BIM designers. This massive design team used 24 hours to complete all design specs and coordinated onsite drawing details with the construction team.

Design confirmation was immediately followed by foundation work on land formation, road paving, underground drainage, seepage-proofing, sewage treatment, creating underground medical waste transfer system, and land backfill, all done in one day.

Then almost 300 electricians from the State Power Company arrived onsite to perform circuit line switching, bury 30 plus electric transformers underground, lay 8000 meters of electric cables, completed within 24 hours in order to ensure timely electricity connection of the construction site.

Seven Chinese telecommunications companies used 36 hours to complete 5G hospital network coverage, equipped with cloud resources, core systems, computing and storage systems, as well as teleconsultation systems for remote diagnosis. With a 5G network in place, a camera is then set-up for the 24 hours live streaming of the construction progress.

Logistics coordination was key to timely project delivery. The Hubei highways gave exclusive passage to transport workers and construction materials needed for the projects, 2 KM of trucks lined up overnight going into the construction sites. Countless supplies, as well as personnel, were delivered onsite within one day, they include but not limited to:

  • More than 100 onsite heavy machineries and almost 4000 workers to each site;
  • Concrete and steel material, as well as partition walls needed for the foundation and main structure;
  • Cement, fire retardant coating, galvanized round steel, insulation materials, nodular cast iron, piping, and fire alarm sets to all rooms;
  • almost 6000 sets of toilet bowls and faucets, 3500 sets of prefabricated integrated hospital rooms, nearly 5000 sets of steel connectors, 50 sets of power supply systems, and 2000 sets of valves;
  • Three meals, temporary shelter, site toilets, simplified onsite meeting rooms, e-cashier supermarkets, among other supplies needed for the workers;

These otherwise costly construction materials and needed resources have all been donated by their generous producers in support of Hubei, and that is not all. Upon the completion of the construction phase up to internal décor, the next set of donations arrived on site shortly:

  • Electronic supplies including 2000 set of computer systems and supplementary IT teams, LCD screens, internet security systems, and hospital cloud systems;
  • Medical equipment including CT scans, specialized air conditioning systems for ICU wards and operation rooms, thermal imaging systems and core plates, medical lighting equipment, 2000 electronic thermometers and 700 oximeters, medical use air purifiers, robotic nurses and hospital beds;
  • Electric appliances including air conditioners, refrigerators, water dispensers, and water heaters, and TV screens;
  • Twenty negative pressure ambulances to each hospital.

Even small things like furniture, filing cabinets, and chairs have been contributed courtesy of anxious enterprises eager to help.

Besides the spirit of unity of the Chinese inspired by a time of national crisis, the prefabricated construction technology and the BIM system that the Chinese government has been promoting in recent years significantly accelerated the speed of construction.

Because of BIM and PC advancements, each stage of the project is able to interlock with the next accurately, greatly reducing convergence time in between. The efficiency of this system is not only demonstrated in the construction of the two hospitals, but also the refitting work of the 11 field hospitals in Wuhan.

Field hospitals are emergency temporary hospitals that the Chinese army used to put together in a time of war, they usually need to be completed fast and can fulfill simple duties of first aid treatment and hospitalizing injured soldiers.

In Wuhan’s case, 11 large public buildings were all refitted into field hospitals overnight to provide bed spaces for confirmed cases of patients with milder symptoms, while critical patients are sent to the more professionally equipped newly built hospitals.

From the expeditious construction and refitting of Wuhan’s pandemic hospitals, it is evident that PC systems will be the future and has become a celebrity of the Chinese construction market. As one of the three recognized PC systems by the Chinese government, it maybe opportune for WFC to explore prospects integrating with the BIM system in an effort to string resonance with Chinese designers.

China is called by the World as the “Captain Marvel of Infrastructure”, WFC needs to keep abreast of China’s technical construction advancements in order to win its respect and acceptance.

 

China Economic Update Q4 2019

China’s GDP increased 6.0% in Q4 2019, official data showed in mid-January, in line with expectations of market analysts and unchanged from the previous quarter’s pace. Facing sluggish demand at home and abroad as well as U.S. trade pressure (before the Phase One economic and trade agreement was signed in January 2020), Chinese policymakers have been rolling out a stream of growth boosting measures over the past two years in an effort to contain financial and debt risks. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.1% in 2019, the slowest in 29 years, but still within the government’s target of 6-6.5%.

The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI, an important indicator of the strength of the Chinese economy, stood at 51.5 in December, slightly down from 51.8 in the previous month. The recent data indicated a moderate expansion of the manufacturing sector. According to Caixin’s press release on the December PMI Index, although the rate of new order growth eased to a three-month low and export sales rose only slightly, the overall health of China’s manufacturing sector continued to improve.

2020 Economic Outlook

Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), under the Economist Group, forecasted that real GDP will expand 5.9% in 2020 — a rate just strong enough for China to meet its political goal of doubling real GDP between 2010 and 2020. However, business conditions on the ground are unlikely to be as good as headline GDP data in 2020. This is because the importance attached to meeting this political target leaves economic figures susceptible to manipulation.

The Construction Sector

Home prices in 70 major Chinese cities remained generally stable in December 2019. Kong Peng, chief statistician with the National Bureau of Statsitics, said the real estate market maintained its steady trend in December as local governments have reiterated that “housing is for living in, not for speculation,” along with implementation of a long-term management mechanism for the market, according to a recent report by Xinhua News, China’s state-owned news agency.

Total investment in the real estate sector in 2019 increased 9.9 percent year-on-year. Total floor area completed in Q3 was at 866 million m2, up 14.4 percent compared to Q2, but still below the same periods in 2018 (883 million m2).

CAD/CNY further edged down in Q4 2019 compared to the preivous period, but still higher then the levels at the beginning of the year. The currency ended at 5.3636 on December 31, 2019.

China Wood Imports (cited from China Bulletin)

Softwood log inventories at China’s main ocean ports totaled 3.7 million m3 at the end of December 2019, an increase of 6.5 percent from the previous month. Radiata pine log inventories recorded a decline of 2 percent for the month. December’s European spruce log inventory was 770,000 m3, up 27.7 percent from the previous month. Inventories at the Taixing port jumped rapidly, moving from 60,000 m3 in November to 180,000 m3 by the end of Decmeber.

Softwood lumber stocks in the Taicang port and the surrounding area were at 1.06 million m3 in mid-December 2019, a large decrease of 21,000 m3 (down 16.5 percent) from November. Stocks of SPF lumber were 180,000 m3, a major decline of 28 percent from November. Meanwhile, softwood lumber inverntories at the Tianjin port were nealry 150,000 m3, down 20,000 m3 from November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

European Timber Quickly Changing the China Market

In 2019, the most notable change in China’s softwood log and lumber market was the significant growth of such imports from Europe. This was mainly due to an infestation of spruce bark beetles and windstorms that have led to a massive timber salvage program in Europe. This has hampered the competitiveness of other softwood species in the Chinese market.

 

Softwood log exports

 

In the first 11 months in 2019, European softwood log exports (excluding Russia) to the Chinese market were a whopping 6.8 million m3 – the pace for the last three months was over one million m3 per month. This represented an increase of 484 percent over the same period of 2018. On the contrary, the softwood log supply from North America was 4.9 million m3, down 27 percent year on year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Softwood log exports from Europe were led by Germany (3.1 million m3, up 2,764% year on year) and the Czech Republic (1.9 million m3, up 1,277% year on year). The current Cost and Freight (C&F) at China’s main ports (by containers) is about Euro 95-100/m3 (US$ 105-110/m3). The C&F for New Zealand radiata pine log is around US$123/m3, and Canadian hemlock is about US$120/m3.

 

European spruce logs are gaining market share at Chinese sawmills in the production of construction lumber and are displacing radiata pine logs and especially North American softwood logs. There are several reasons for this. First, the log scaling in Europe allows for at least a 5 percent gain in volume for Chinese importers — this contrasts with North American logs, where there are normally no gains or even a volume loss for Chinese importers. Second, European spruce logs are longer (mostly 5.7m to 11.5m with over-length tolerances). Better yields are achieved in Chinese sawmills with Central European logs compared to using North American logs. Last, European spruce logs are now the cheapest species in Chinese wholesale markets – even cheaper than radiata pine logs. As a result, European log imports have soared, thus pushing down the prices of North American and radiata pine logs.

 

It’s difficult to predict how long this trend will continue; however, we expect the supply of European spruce logs will remain strong for several years, although this does depend on weather conditions. Furthermore, more Chinese players are investing in log yards in Europe to ship logs to China at competitive prices. This will create a tough challenge for other softwood log suppliers to compete – including North American logs.

 

Softwood lumber imports

 

In terms of softwood lumber, the supply from Europe (excluding Russia) has reached 4.2 million m3 during the first eleven months of 2019, up 61 percent from the same period of 2018. In the meantime, European lumber imports accounted for 15.3 percent of the market share in China (vs. 11.3 percent in the same period of 2018).

 

Finland and Sweden, and now the Ukraine and Germany, are the four largest suppliers. Softwood lumber imports from Ukraine reached 764,000 m3 during the first eleven months of this year, an increase of 94 percent from the same period of last year. The softwood lumber supply from Germany has reached 641,000 m3, a dramatic growth of 375 percent compared with the same period of last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The growth of the Central and Eastern European softwood lumber supply in China is largely driven by low-grade lumber applied in construction, including:

 

  • Ukraine red pine lumber: offered at flexible sizes (mainly 36×86 mm or even 35×85) with a size tolerance price of around US$162-165/m3 for air-dried (AD) deadwood lumber grade – this competes with SPF lumber in construction lumber applications.
  • German spruce lumber: offered at flexible sizes (based on Chinese importers’ requirements) at price of around US$170-175/m3 for AD, ABC grade (cut from storm and beetle logs).
  • Stock volume to be offered from various European mills at prices of US$ 130-150/m3 for KD lumber, but at fixed specifications offered in the stock listing.

 

Essentially, the volume of low-priced spruce lumber from Central Europe in China was relatively small compared with other main suppliers. Furthermore, for the market ahead, this rapid pace of low-grade lumber exports from Central Europe is expected to slow down, considering sawmills have limited ability to add shifts and some non-favored specification issues.

 

About the writer: Jane Guo is the China Operations Manager for Forest Economic Advisors. In this role, Jane is responsible for conducting market research, information assessments, industry evaluation as well as logistics organization for market trips, conferences and tours in China. The focus of the China office is on softwood log and lumber products, but a variety of other products is also covered (some hardwood and value-added products).

For further background information, please contact: Russ Taylor [email protected].

 

China’s First WFC Nearly Net Zero Project Design Meet Government Standards

The China Academy of Building Research (CABR), China’s largest and most diverse research institution in the building industry, has completed an assessment report on the design of the Changzhou Nearly Zero Energy Wood-Frame Project. The report concluded the light wood-frame project meets the Technical Standard for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings required by China. It will be China’s first wood-frame project consuming nearly net-zero energy.

 

A nearly zero-energy building (NZE) is a building with nearly zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis almost equals the amount of renewable energy created on the site. 

 

The CABR’s recognition of the Changzhou Nearly Zero Energy wood-frame project is a milestone for the government’s endorsement of wood’s contribution to energy saving in the construction sector. It will also strengthen the industry/market’s understanding that wood-frame construction (WFC) is an ideal solution to NZE, thus creating more opportunities for wood applications in China. 

 

Canada Wood China (CW China) supported the Jiangsu Urban and Rural Construction College to explore the Changzhou demonstration project jointly. It will be a two-storey guesthouse with light wood-frame structure, covering a building area of 592 m2, with eight guest rooms. Glue-laminated timber (GLT) will be used in the hall and entrance. CW China helped design the building, which is energy efficient, especially with regards to insulation, airtightness and its ventilation system. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Images: Designs for the Changzhou demonstration project.

 

The project will demonstrate the capabilities of WFC with very low energy consumption to Chinese officials, developers and the industry. This project was selected as part of China’s National Key Research and Development Program of the 13th Five-Year Plan, a framework for government policies from 2016-2020.

On November 13, 2019, builder Shenzhou Yuanlin was selected through a rigorous bidding process to carry out this demo project. The design review and final construction permit application was completed. The Jiangsu Urban and Rural Construction College plans to start the construction of its foundations in late December 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: The interior plan of the building.

 

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