Indian Railway has shut down its passenger train services for the first time in 167 years amid the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
It was an unprecedented decision followed by another one - the 4th largest railway operator in the world has now decided to convert around 20,000 old carriages into isolation wards for treatment of the coronavirus patients, reports CNN.
"Now, the railways will offer clean, sanitized and hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover," Piyush Goyal, the Railways Minister said in a tweet.
A railway employee who is working to convert the train coaches into emergency wards ín Assam said, "Railway bosses have instructed each of India's 16 railway zones to identify non-air conditioned carriages that are no longer in operation on passenger routes to turn into hospitals and have them ready for use in case of an emergency.
The first 5,000 isolation wards will be ready within a fortnight, and if necessary, more carriages can be converted within 48 hours, said Rajesh Dutt Bajpai, executive director of information and publicity at the Railway Board.
Local health authorities will assign government doctors, paramedics, nurses, and volunteers to the trains.
The Indian government has also instructed railway factories to assess the feasibility of manufacturing hospital beds, stretchers, medical trolleys, masks, sanitizers, aprons, and medical apparatus such as ventilators for use in railway hospitals and other government hospitals.
India has a massive number of bed shortages in proportion with the population numbers. This initiative might be able to relax that to some extent.
According to OECD, India has 0.5 hospital beds available for every 1,000 people. Most of these are clustered in urban areas, and availability differs hugely between states.
"We have seen what China has gone through. It is imperative to increase this density, by whatever means in the shorter term, and more systematically in the longer term, once this outbreak is over," said Shahid Jameel, an Indian virologist and CEO of Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, a public charity that funds research in health and biomedical sciences.
Indian railway has 125 hospitals across the nation. Also, they have hospital on the wheels named "Lifeline Express" in service for 29 years of service, the hospital-on-wheels has traveled across 19 Indian states and treated over 1 million people.
The new coronavirus trains are not designed to function as full-service hospitals, but local health officials will have the option of using them for Covid-19 positive patients who are not critically ill.
On April 1, India had recorded 4,288 cases of Covid-19, including 117 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University -- a relatively small number for a nation of 1.3 billion. While India's hospital system isn't overwhelmed yet, the repurposed trains could ease some of the pressure if the number of coronavirus patients begins to rise.