Railways rise up to fight coronavirus

Three-tier sleeper coaches are being used as quarantine facilities in joint public-private efforts to combat the pandemic, writes MY Siddiqui

Indian Railways have geared itself to fight surging Covid-19 (Coronavirus) in a big way. Accordingly, as directed by the Union Government in Ministry of Railways, all the 16 zonal railways have started modifying 3-tier sleeper coaches, on a war footing, to provide clean, hygienic, sanitized and comfortable quarantined beds for coronavirus patients to supplement growing requirements of quarantine facilities in joint public-private efforts to combat the pandemic. Modification of coaches is being accomplished in keeping with a prototype already built to the specifications of the medical standards and approved by the Government.

To begin with, each zonal railway has been tasked to modify 10 coaches each to make it a total of 160 such coaches across the country to meet the increasing needs of coronavirus inflicted patients. Number of modified coaches may increase depending on the unfolding situation. Presently, Indian Railways have over 70,000 passenger coaches comprising all classes, of which more than three-fourth are non-AC coaches including three-tier sleeper coaches, all of which are now idling following suspension of passenger train services on account of 21 day long countrywide lockdown from March 24 to April 14, 2020. Goods trains, however, are operating to rush emergency food, medicines and other essential items relevant to tackle the menace of Covid-19.

Each modified coach would have nine cabins to accommodate patient in each cabin, which may function as an independent ward. Middle berths have been removed from modified coaches to maintain needed space between berths. Extra bottle holders and electric points have been provided for medicines, Intra Venus fluids and medical equipment like oscilloscope monitor, suction apparatus and so on germane to patients’ needs.

A foldable stool has also been provided under the berth for keeping medical equipment. Air plastic curtain has also been provided between two cabins for privacy and isolation of patients. Other facilities include removal of side berths end-panel walls of the coach near the entry/exit doors for easy access to and movement of stretchers, conversion of one of the four toilets with facilities for showers, bucket and mug, besides, insulation panels over the roof of coach and the side walls for reducing the heat transfer and temperature inside the isolation wards the modified coach would function for.

Railways have also roped in services of its retired medical doctors, nurses and paramedics to meet the challenges of coronavirus quarantined isolation wards. Railways have a huge network of hospitals and healthcare centres across its network to meet requirements of its workforce and users. Rail coach based isolation wards would be stationed at a site away from madding crowds of people with constant water, power and related medical support system.

Current efforts of the Indian Railways form part of national emergency response as part of the totality of public-private efforts with the armed forces, paramilitary, National Disaster Relief Force, public-private transport infrastructure, medical fraternity, NGOs, civil society and all citizens to help the country come out of such natural or man-made traumatic disaster.

It is a matter of grave public concern that once again ugly face of Indian democracy has surfaced with impunity where the Union Government shortchanged the people with giving them no time (only four hours’ time between announcement and commencement of lockdown) to prepare for unprecedented (never-before) crises like the 21 day long lockdown, leaving the bulk of the people especially in the unorganized sector, daily wagers, unemployed and in lurch to fend for themselves on such a wider national scale and that also by a government elected by the people deriving power and pelf from the people, thus proving democracy in India is only election centric where elected governments turn authoritarian and anti-people!

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