The Best Western Hotel in the London suburb of Croydon would normally be packed with visiting families, out-of-town construction workers, and business travelers.
But today the lobby is clear of all guests and furniture except for a single table with a bottle of hand sanitizer, a box of face masks and a notice that reads, “Coughs and sneezes spread disease.”
A four-foot machine emblazoned with the phrase “Viruskiller” whirs behind the empty check-in counter.
This 107-room inn is now a recovery ward for coronavirus patients, as part of a pilot program to relieve local hospitals that are under enormous strain in the second wave of the pandemic.
The hotel’s manager Alex Palaghiu said the transition from 4-star hotel to makeshift medical facility was driven by the need to help the country’s ailing National Health Service (NHS).
“We are very proud to be part of this, so it’s a very good feeling to be a part of something,” he said, “I believe everyone should get together to support the NHS and save lives.”
This is the first hotel in the UK to take part in the scheme, but if successful, it could be a model for converting more of the hospitality industry’s spare rooms, many of which lie empty amid the country’s lockdown.
Hospital beds are precious commodities
The NHS is currently staggering under an unprecedented crisis with more coronavirus patients in hospital than at any point in the pandemic. A new, more infectious variant of Covid-19, which officials say is out of control, has caused record-breaking infection rates.
And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the country’s intensive care units (ICUs) face substantial risk of being overwhelmed by the disease, which has infected more than 3.2 million people and killed 84,000.
Hospital beds are now one of the most precious commodities in the country, but so far, there are only three patients recovering on the first floor of the otherwise empty hotel.
Hoteliers say they want health officials to send hundreds more Covid-19 patients their way.
“The hospitality industry is virtually closed, so we are all willing to open our doors and get ill people better as soon as possible,” Meher Nawab, the CEO of the London Hotel Group, of which Best Western is a part, explained.
There are no medical workers at the hotel in Croydon to support the patients, all of whom are in the final days of their isolation period and need minimal care.
“Myself and my staff, we are very confident that everything will run smoothly and that we created a safe environment for our staff and also for these early discharge patients,” Palaghiu explained.
Contactless meal delivery takes place three times a day, and phones are manned 24/7 in case of any emergencies.
Staff completed a video training course provided by the NHS, stepped-up their hygiene practices, and installed air filtration systems throughout the building.
“The feeling is that we are not scared,” Palaghiu said when asked if he and his staff were reluctant to take in Covid patients.
“We are properly trained and the cleaning standard is higher than ever. So we are confident.”
The 4-star hotel is just around the corner from a major hospital and staff here say they are desperate to provide some reprieve for the overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
Nearly half of ICU staff in the UK were found to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study conducted in the summer of 2020 by Kings College London. Some of those surveyed experienced thoughts of self-harm, while others had turned to alcohol abuse.
The bosses of this hotel brand say they are in touch with NHS leadership on a daily basis and hope to see their spare rooms fill up in coming days.
“Through Best Western we have an excess of 5,000 hotel rooms available. A number of other (hotel) brands have approached us and we could within weeks get 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 hotel rooms opened to assist the NHS,” Nawab said.
As cases rise in the UK, health officials may soon take up that offer.