Hospital building work that would normally take weeks is being done in days as teams work around the clock to expand facilities that will be crucial in the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

The huge effort by hospital engineers and local builders has raised the spirits of intensive care specialists, who know they will need all the help they can get to cope with an expected surge in the number of patients needing hospital care.

Engineers have made rapid improvements to Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) - converting a new six-bed extension into a large negative pressure room and building two new air locks in just a few days. Such work could normally take months from planning to completion.

Negative pressure rooms use lower air pressure to prevent internal air from reaching the rest of the hospital, allowing patients with infectious conditions to be isolated. Air locks give an additional buffer to the outside world.

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Dr Alex Psirides, an intensivist at the hospital, tweeted photos of the new facilities tonight, and passed on his thanks to the "amazing" hospital engineers.

Someone replied, "getting towards the Chinese speed" - a reference to the speed-construction of huge facilities in Wuhan after the outbreak there, including a 1000-bed hospital built in eight days.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Health said there were 268 negative pressure rooms across the country's 20 DHBs, but the latest audit shows there are 330.

It's unclear whether that increase reflects all new builds/repurposing, or if the original audit missed some facilities.

With the country moving to alert level 4, elective surgeries and procedures in the public system are being deferred, with health workers including anaesthetists preparing to work in intensive care. District health boards are hiring accommodation for some workers who have chosen to live away from their families for weeks, so as to not risk transmission.

New Zealand aims to treble its current number of ICU beds, which stood at fewer than 180, and that requires staff to have urgent training so they can help out. The country's 39 private hospitals have also pledged help if the public system nears capacity.

The Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society has also led work on how any influx of Covid-19 patients would be triaged, including using special Kiwi-designed software to help doctors decide who would get an ICU bed if there aren't enough available.