Philippines converts sports stadiums to combat COVID-19

Major sports venues that hosted the 2019 Southeast Asian Games are now part of the Philippines' efforts to combat COVID-19. A number of sports stadiums throughout Luzon, where the majority of the COVID-19 cases are in the archipelago of over 7,000, have been converted into major quarantine facilities by the national government.

Construction of these facilities were done in partnership between the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the private sector. All of these facilities were finished in just a week.

There are six major facilities now available for use, designed to house up to 1,500 patients. People who have mild symptoms and are asymptomatic are eligible to be admitted. Mass testing, which was started April 14, will be conducted in the areas as well.

These facilities are designed to provide around-the-clock healthcare, air-conditioned cubicles, electric outlets, free Wi-Fi, nurse stations, and food.

All facilities will be managed by the Department of Health, in partnership with other government agencies tasked by the national government.

Frontline staff will also be provided personal protective equipment (PPEs) by the state during their stay.

Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William "Butch" Ramirez, the country's sports minister, offered the use of the Rizal Memorial Complex for use.

Vince Dizon, Presidential Adviser for Flagship Programs and Projects and BCDA president and CEO, said that they have been inspired by other countries' responses to the pandemic.

"The conversion of facilities is also being done in other countries like the US (New York), Spain (Barcelona), and China (Wuhan)," Dizon told ESPN5.com via e-mail. "This strategy identifies isolation sites so as not to crowd hospitals who are treating severe cases of COVID-19. This means more patients will be given proper care in the best and most effective way possible, and more lives will be saved."

The Rizal Memorial Coliseum (RMC) and the Ninoy Aquino Stadium (NAS) are currently being used as medical facilities. It is managed by the medical staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The NAS will serve as the main facility, with a 112 bed capacity. Accessibility is not a problem due to parking space allotted there.

Meanwhile, the RMC, built in 1934 originally as a tennis stadium, was the main sporting hub of the country up until 1960, when the Araneta Coliseum was opened. Numerous sporting events such as boxing, basketball, volleyball, taekwondo, are regularly held there.

There have been two major renovations made with the streamline art-deco structure, once in 1954 for the Asian Games, and in 2019, for the SEA Games.

The RMC will be held as a recovery facility with a 97-bed capacity.

Other facilities such as the baseball and football stadiums are also being offered, according to the PSC. The Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium, which opened in 1934, saw Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth launch home runs in its first-ever event. Meanwhile, the Beatles held their two-day concert at the Rizal Memorial Track and Football Stadium in 1966.

The World Trade Center, a few kilometers away in Pasay, is the biggest temporary hospital in Metro Manila. The facility will be able to hold 530 cubicles across its four halls. The medical team of the Philippine Coast Guard will aid the medical staff in handling patients there.

Just across the WTC lies the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), primarily used as a venue for conferences and graduations, which will be able to house a total of 294 cubicles.

Patients in the PICC will be grouped according to severity and will be cared for by the medical team of the Philippine National Police.

The BCDA converted the ASEAN Convention Center in the Clark Freeport Zone and the New Clark City (NCC) Government Buildings in Capas as the quarantine areas to serve the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac.

Both facilities can handle up to 1,000 patients, according to Dizon.

The convention center had served as the International Broadcast Center during the SEA Games.

In the NCC, the government had already used the Athlete's Village as temporary shelter for more than 400 returnees from the cruise ship M/V Diamond Princess.

Also housed in the community is a clinic of the Philippine General Hospital, which stands behind the outdoor Athletics Stadium.

Several venues are still being furnished to be converted into temporary hospitals as well, such as the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan and the PhilSports Arena in Pasig.

The Philippine Arena will be able to hold 2,000 cubicles. It is also the largest indoor stadium in the world, and has been used for church activities, concerts, and sporting events. It hosted the opening ceremony of the SEA Games, and was the site of U2's first Philippine concert in December.