But today, the lobby is free of all guests and furniture except for a single table with a bottle of hand sanitizer, a box of face masks and a message that reads, “Coughing and sneezing spread disease.”
A four-foot machine embossed with the phrase “Virus Separator” swirls behind the empty check-in counter.
Hotel manager Alex Palaghiu said the transition from 4-star hotel to temporary medical facility was driven by the need to help the country’s ailing National Health Service (NHS).
“We are very proud to be a part of this, so it’s a very good feeling to be a part of something,” he said, “I think everyone should meet to support the NHS and save lives.”
This is the first hotel in the UK to participate in the scheme, but if successful, it could be a model for converting several of the hotel industry’s reserve rooms, many of which are empty in the middle of the country’s closure.
Hospital beds are precious commodities
The NHS is currently dizzying during an unprecedented crisis with more coronavirus patients in the hospital than at any point in the pandemic. A new, more contagious variant of Covid-19, which officials say is out of control, has caused record rates of infection.
And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the country’s intensive care units (ICUs) face significant 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 expensive items in the country, but so far only three patients are recovering on the first floor of the otherwise empty hotel.
Hotel owners say they want health officials to send hundreds of more Covid-19 patients their way.
“The hospitality industry is almost closed, so we are all willing to open our doors and get sick people better as soon as possible,” explained Meher Nawab, CEO of the London Hotel Group, of which Best Western is a part.
There are no medical staff at the Croydon Hotel to support patients, all of whom are in the final days of their isolation period and in need of minimal care.
“I and my staff are very confident that everything will run smoothly and that we created a safe environment for our staff and also for these patients with early discharge,” Palaghiu explained.
Contactless food delivery takes place three times a day and telephones are staffed 24/7 in case of emergencies.
Staff conducted a video course provided by the NHS, intensified their hygiene practices and installed air filtration systems throughout the building.
“The feeling is that we are not afraid,” Palaghiu said when asked if he and his staff were reluctant to take Covid patients.
“We are properly trained and the standard of cleaning is higher than ever. So we are safe.”
The 4-star hotel is just around the corner from a major hospital, and staff here say they are desperate to give some respite to the overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
Nearly half of UK ICU staff were found to be showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study conducted in the summer of 2020 by Kings College London. Some of the respondents experienced thoughts of self-harm, while others had turned to alcohol abuse.
The executives of this hotel brand say they are in touch with the NHS management on a daily basis and hope to see their reserve rooms fill up in the coming days.
“Through Best Western, we have a surplus of 5,000 hotel rooms available. A number of other (hotel) brands have approached us, and within a few weeks we could have 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 hotel rooms opened to help the NHS,” Nawab said. .
As cases increase in the UK, health officials may soon take up this offer.