With the cases of Coronavirus rising in the country, the union govt had decided to convert Railway coaches into Covid-19 treatment facilities. The govt has announced that 500 coaches will be given to Delhi, which will provide 8000 beds. Before this, almost 5000 coaches are already functioning has isolation centres. It is learnt that coaches will be given to other states also based on the requirement for conversion into COVID-19 hospitals.
It has been decided that only non-AC coaches will be used for conversion to COVID-19 hospitals. According to sources in the Railway ministry, the matter of AC vs non-AC coaches was discussed with the Union Health Ministry and also with NITI Aayog. After the meetings, it was concluded that non-AC coaches are more suitable according to the Coronavirus treatment protocols issued by the health ministry.
According to guidelines, normal AC systems used in hospitals are not suitable for contagious diseases like Coronavirus, as such systems recirculate the air in the room after cooling it, the systems can increase the concentration of the virus in the room. Moreover, these systems also have the risk of circulating the virus outside the ward. Therefore, the guidelines say that the AC systems must be converted into non-circulatory system to avoid increasing the concentration of the virus in the air.
As an additional protection, UVGI (Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation) units can be installed in the Air Conditioning systems, which kill pathogens in the air circulating in the system using ultraviolet light. The recently opened Covid-19 super speciality hospital in Guwahati uses such a system imported from Canada.
Therefore, as there are several issues and requirements for AC systems for Coronavirus treatment facilities, it was decided that it will be in the best interest of the patients to use non-AC coaches. Railway ministry sources also pointed out many hospitals do not have AC wards for Covid-19 and other patients, and there is nothing wrong in non-AC coaches to be used as COVID-19 wards.
If there is any requirement to control the heat at the coaches, rooftop isolation or any other suitable measures will be taken by the Railways, as per the guidelines issued by the health ministry for the conversion of coaches to Covid-19 facilities.
Railway ministry said that if union health ministry feels that AC coaches can be used for patients also then it will be done in the next batch of coaches. But the current coaches being converted can’t be retrofitted as they are using non-AC sleeper coaches for the same.
Railways have already started making arrangements for cooling of coaches. In some places, coaches can be covered with a shed over the roof. There is an option of a paint which can reduce the temperature. There is an option of using insulating materials of 2-3 kinds which can reduce the temperature.
Railways sources informed that they will make sure that patients don’t suffer too much due to heat. Fans are kept in all the coaches. Other methods for cooling coaches like sprinkling of water, certain fans blowing towards the coaches for better air circulation etc. are also being tried. Railways is also crowdsourcing and department sourcing ideas to deal with this issue.
The train coaches will be used for mild/very mild cases only s as per the guidelines of the health ministry. Then coaches can be used after the existing medical facilities are exhausted in the respected areas. After coaches are allocated by the Railways, they will be handed over to the district administration. The state government will attach one map at least one dedicated hospital for each train so that patients can be shifted to the hospital in case of emergency.
Although patients will not be kept in AC coaches, there will be AC coaches for nursing staff and doctors appointed by the State governments. They will be quarantined in the AC coaches.
Maintenance of coaches and charging will be the responsibility of Railways. Railways can also arrange catering services as per the requirement by the State government. Security, signage, CCTV coverage and free Wifi will be provided by the Indian Railways.
For convreting to COVID-19 facilities, Railways is using general sleeper coaches whore life is life is coming to end in the next 2 years. The ministry said that the cost of converting the coaches are not very high, as there is no need of removal and fixing of berths.