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Racing against the coronavirus at a Hubei hospital

Yu Xun’s Lunar New Year Eve’s dinner was interrupted by a phone call. A medical center in China’s Hubei Province had to be turned into a 1,000-bed novel coronavirus hospital – in 48 hours. Elevator maintenance technician Yu Xun was needed urgently to help make this happen.

The Dabie Mountain Medical Center is located in Huanggang, a city on the Yangtze River known as the birthplace of several Chinese inventors, scientists, and scholars. It is also known as the city that was second worst-hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the land-locked province of Hubei in Central China.

The outbreak that has since turned into a global pandemic was picking up speed in the province around the Lunar New Year period. On the evening of January 24, when Yu Xun got the call from his supervisor Hu Cong, it was already clear that fast action was needed to contain the spread of the virus, to treat those affected by it, and to keep society running to the extent possible.

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Team of two to the rescue

Yu Xun and his colleague Gao Wei set to work immediately. KONE had installed 45 elevators and 17 escalators at the Dabie Mountain Medical Center as part of an ongoing refurbishment, and now 18 of the elevators needed to be handed over within 24 hours. Yu Xun and Gao Wei worked until midnight without rest or meals to get the equipment operational.

“I knew it was a huge challenge, but we had no choice but to bite the bullet,” says Yu Xun. “Otherwise, medical supplies could hardly be transferred without elevators, and the medical center would fail to function as quickly as possible. It was about people’s life and death. We were racing against the spread of the virus.”

Once the medical center began to treat patients, the team of two faced even more serious challenges. Daily maintenance work in a high-risk setting in the time of the novel coronavirus entails wearing eye shields, face masks, gowns and gloves to prevent person-to-person transmission.

The protective suit is not only heavy, which made working swiftly difficult, but it is also stuffy. What used to be relatively easy work for these experienced technicians became increasingly harder as sweat streamed into their eyes and eye shields fogged up, inhibiting their vision.

But there was also some good news: two of Yu Xun’s apprentices, Tang Hui and Peng Xinhao, arrived on site for support, easing the workload to some extent.

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Uprooted and hearts racing

Working in the eye of the coronavirus storm meant Yu Xun and his team faced unprecedented challenges at work, and a total upheaval of their lives. To ensure the medical center’s elevators were safe to use and that any problems could be dealt with quickly, the team lived in a temporary rented house nearby.

When Huanggang was put under lockdown, daily supplies were in short supply. At first, the team only had access to instant food. The situation improved when KONE’s Wuhan branch managed through dedicated efforts to deliver food to the team.

Mental stress was another invisible but inescapable challenge. The number of confirmed cases in Huanggang was increasing daily. Working in a medical center where the contagious virus was more intensely present than elsewhere was a major fear factor and cause of worry for the maintenance team.

Maintaining the elevators used to convey medical waste got their hearts racing particularly hard.

“Of course, I was scared! Even though I had the protective suit, there was no 100% safety when we are talking about a pandemic. The secret was to focus on tackling problems rather than letting your emotions take control. That’s all,” says Gao Wei.

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Sustaining each other through tough times

In addition to their elevator maintenance responsibilities, Yu Xun and his team volunteered to help the customer with other tasks, too, such as transporting supplies.

Tang Hui sums up the experience as follows: “We need to sustain each other to get through tough times together.”

This is a spring festival the team will never forget and an experience of which they are deservedly proud.

Read more:
Focusing on the customer to get through COVID-19
Look beyond the danger and see the opportunity in the crisis
Children’s education and welfare program supports disadvantaged kids during the pandemic
Using cloud technology to keep critical sites operational in a time of crisis
Elevator etiquette for staying healthy