Shanghai suffered less than many cities from the 2003 Sars outbreak, reporting only eight cases and just one death. But the municipal government still set aside 700,000 square metres of land to build a spacious infectious disease centre.
The project - named the government's No1 priority for 2004 - was a response to a lesson learned during the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, when Beijing had to build the makeshift Xiaotangshan hospital on the capital's outskirts in just seven days to isolate patients.
The hospital is now deserted, but all mainland cities expanded their infectious disease hospitals and other facilities following an order by the State Council in September 2003.
Shanghai now has one of the largest facilities. The Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, opened in November 2004, has 500 beds and its executive director, Dr Lu Hongzhou, said it could accommodate another 600 contagious patients in provisional wards quickly erected on empty land.
The city's old infectious diseases centre, in the city centre's Hongkou district, was closed in 2004, with only a small outpatient department remaining.
Lu said his centre was built in the Jinshan district, on the city's southwestern outskirts, because it was downwind of the city centre, far from its drinking water sources and sparsely populated.
Most of the patients it treats have HIV, hepatitis B and tuberculosis, but it is able to treat all 39 infectious diseases recognised by mainland health authorities.
Professor Lu Jiahai , from the School of Public Health at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said other cities had implemented similar projects. For example, Guangzhou's No8 People's Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, was expanded and given a facelift after the Sars epidemic.
Lu Hongzhou , an expert on contagious diseases on the mainland, recalled a visit to Shanghai by World Health Organisation specialists in April 2003. Western scientists were impressed with how the city was handling Sars.
"At first, the WHO experts were cautious over the report about Shanghai's situation," he said. "I accompanied them to visit Shanghai's hospitals and communities. They found that we had distributed handbooks on tips to prevent Sars, we set up outpatient departments in many hospitals to deal with people with fever, community-based officials and even residents were enthusiastic in helping screen suspected patients, and each district's epidemic-prevention station … reported to the municipal authorities in a timely manner."
He said the supervisory network played a key role in Shanghai's success in combating Sars and was later introduced in other mainland cities.