Good step! Indian Railways to convert coaches into COVID-19 hospitals for Tier II, III cities, villages

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Updated: May 04, 2020 5:28 PM

As per a presentation shared by the NITI Aayog with states last week, if the nationwide lockdown was lifted on May 3 (as scheduled earlier), the number of COVID-19 cases was estimated to touch 65,000 by May 15, and to 2.74 crore number of cases by August 15.

Indian Railways, COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 hospitals, indian railways coaches, niti aayog, ICU, Narendra Modi, coroanvirus outbreak, latest news on indian railwaysAccording to Dr VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, the idea came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo source: Indian Railways)

Indian Railways plans to roll out train hospitals for COVID-19 pandemic in Tier II and Tier III cities as well as villages. Indian Railways has already converted 5,150 train coaches (non-AC) into isolation centres. The NITI Aayog has recently proposed that some of these isolation centres of Indian Railways should be upgraded to hospitals, with ICU, oxygen and ventilator facilities, according to an IE report. As per a presentation shared by the NITI Aayog with states last week, if the nationwide lockdown was lifted on May 3 (as scheduled earlier), the number of COVID-19 cases was estimated to touch 65,000 by May 15, and to 2.74 crore number of cases by August 15. Till now, around 20% of the over 40,000 COVID-19 cases across India have needed hospitalisation.

According to Dr VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, the idea came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a logical step as these converted hospitals can reach anywhere in the country within 24 hours, and can be parked anywhere, he said. He further stated that some of these train hospitals could be retained even after the COVID-19 outbreak, to be used during disasters. Some of these converted train hospitals could continue to be with the National Disaster Management Authority, Paul said. The staff for these train hospitals could be sourced either locally from wherever the train is posted or stationed on a rotational basis, he added.

According to the report, at present, there are three levels of COVID-19 facilities in India- Level-I is to provide isolation facility to those who are novel coronavirus positive but asymptomatic or those who have a history of contact with a COVID-19 positive patient; Level-II is dedicated COVID-19 hospitals equipped with oxygen facilities that offer care for moderate cases; Level-III are dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, fully equipped with ICUs and ventilators to treat severe cases. A total of 5,150 train coaches of Indian Railways have been converted into Level-I isolation centres, but they are yet to be used for COVID-19 treatment.

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The idea to upgrade these coaches into Level-II and Level-III facilities was mooted by Dr Paul at a meeting with the national transporter’s top brass last month. It was discussed in the meeting that these train coaches would add more value to the novel coronavirus containment infrastructure as hospitals on wheels rather than isolation centres for patients. However, during the meeting, some issues were also raised, including the fact that since these coaches are non-AC, it would get very hot for the patients. Moreover, these coaches would not have the facilities that are required for plugging in sophisticated machines for the treatment.

According to the report, the example of Lifeline Express of Indian Railways was cited as well. However, a source was quoted in the report saying that replicating a similar rake would take nearly a duration of six months. Considerable modifications on these coaches have been done already for their use as isolation centres, with an estimated cost of Rs 2 lakh per coach.

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