As the government prepares for a long battle against COVID-19, isolation wards in trains for rural and remote areas, and manufacturing of ventilators in its factories are at the top of the agenda for the Indian Railways.
While the Rail Coach Factory (RCF) in Kapurthala has been tasked with the duty of converting LHB coaches into isolation wards, the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, the makers of Train 18 (India’s first electric semi-high speed train), is attempting to manufacture ventilators.
Addressing a video conference on Wednesday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav told the top brass to be prepared in the event of community transmission of COVID-19, which would then require reinforcement of healthcare facilities across India, especially in rural and remote areas.
“The instructions are to achieve preparedness and be on standby,” a top Railway Ministry official told The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity. “This is keeping in mind the scenario of a long battle beyond the 21-day lockdown.”
RCF Kapurthala will be initially making a prototype by converting an existing LHB coach into an isolation ward. This will be a non-AC coach because it would be difficult to sanitise air for a communicable disease in case of an AC coach. The layout is being prepared and a decision will be taken as to how many patients can be accommodated in a coach keeping in mind various factors —distance, hygiene, necessary equipment to monitor health, and most importantly, exclusive bathroom usage.
Once the design is finalised, turning a rake into an isolation ward won’t be difficult even in short time, officials said, adding that the coaches are anyway lying idle due to the lockdown.
However, according to officials, it is the manufacturing of ventilators that is turning out to be a challenge. ICF Chennai had made a prototype using “reverse engineering” but it has failed. More attempts are being made. “Making the machine is not difficult, but calibrating it is the challenge. Let’s hope we can crack it. Gone are the days of mechanical ventilators. So what we make has to be of the existing standards,” said a senior official.
India lacks an official figure on the number of ventilators it has. Rough estimates peg it at around 40,000. Many countries have also pressed into service non-health sectors to supplement their medical capability to fight the outbreak.
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