COVID – 19(Corona Virus) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. The outbreak of the coronavirus has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In an attempt to curb and contain the coronavirus outbreak, India’s Railway Board on 22nd March, 2020 announced that “all passenger train services on Indian Railways including premium trains, mail and express trains, passenger trains, suburban trains, Kolkata Metro Rail, Konkan Railway, etc shall be cancelled till the midnight of 31 March, 2020”. 

However, goods trains will continue operations ensuring supplies are not interrupted across the country. Separately, state governments will also suspend all Metro rail services and inter-state transport buses for the same period.

This move to stop movement via rail also comes as panic-stricken people have tried to flock to their hometowns, running the risk of getting infected or acting as potential carriers. There have already been a few reported cases of people who had been asked to stay on home quarantine being found travelling on trains.

But, on 24th March, 2020 PM Modi announced a complete lockdown in the country. In order to control the spread of the deadly virus, the Indian government has imposed a 21-day lockdown in the country and is urging people to avoid all ‘non-essential’ travel. India’s prime minister ordered all 1.3 billion people in the country to stay inside their homes for three weeks starting 26th March, 2020 — the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Countries around the world are increasingly adopting sweeping measures to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, including full lockdowns, shutting down airports, imposing travel restrictions and completely sealing their borders.

In a bid to increase the country’s capacity for isolation facilities, the Railways is formulating a plan to turn its train coaches into quarantine hubs. Indian Railways has decided to modify 20,000 coaches into quarantine/ isolation coaches to augment the quarantine facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. They are looking at turning existing coaches into wards where patients who need to be quarantined can be placed with food and medical facilities being provided within the coach.

This decision was taken after a meeting between Armed Forces Medical Services, Medical Department of various Zonal Railways, and Ayushman Bharat, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Five Zonal Railways have already prepared prototypes for the quarantine/ isolation coaches.

These train coaches are facilitated with patient cabins, nurse cabins, isolation wards for keeping those individuals showing any symptoms of Coronavirus or those who need to be in a quarantine provision due to travel history.
The coaches are equipped with sanitised interiors for the safety of the individuals, doctors, railway officials as well as the nurses.
The coaches (which have nine segments, with six berths each) will be divided into sections with space for at least nine patients per coach.
The Railways plan to convert pantry cars into a mobile kitchen to ensure supply to stations where there are no base kitchens.
Once the Railways identify coaches, they will be disinfected and will be made ready for being used as quarantine facilities.

Earlier, an idea was floated for converting coaches into isolation units with two people in one coach having access to one toilet each on either ends. This would lead to creating at least 10,000 isolation wards using 20,000 coaches with the railways. To facilitate this, railways have also started movement of its rakes that were stuck in other zones when the passenger train operations were stalled from midnight of March 22. A total of 637 rakes across Indian from various zones were stuck in 17 different zones are now being returned to their home zones for enhances maintenance.

The Western Railway, which owns about a total of 52 rakes, had 42 of these rakes in different zones across India. Similarly, Central Railway, which has 175 rakes, had about 56 which were in different zones. These trains have begun movement to reach back to parent coaches. Once these coaches are back, they will be disinfected and kept ready for being used as quarantine facilities. “We are not looking at any physical modification to the coaches as of now,” said another official from Central Railway.

The Indian Railways has already given a go-ahead to Zonal heads to explore the possibility of hiring doctors and paramedics from the market and also to re-employ retired railway doctors as a temporary measure to meet the increased requirement of medical supervision and assist the authorities in charge of COVID 19 control management in the region.

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