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Fighting the pandemic: Across India, stadiums morph into quarantine centres, young graduates are on call 

How states are stepping up to fight the novel coronavirus.

Written by Vishnu Varma , Ralph Alex Arakal , Debraj Deb , Tora Agarwala | Agartala, Bengaluru, Guwahati, Kochi |
Updated: March 26, 2020 8:46:30 pm
A Telangana state fire services worker spraying disinfectant in Hyderabad. Express photo by Rahul V Pisharody

Two days into the country-wide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, states across India are prepping up to beat the novel coronavirus. Even as social distancing norms are in place as far as possible, states are converting stadiums into massive quarantine centres and accelerating medical hires.

The high rate of contagion has put most states on alert — even the ones which have no positive case reported so far.

In Assam, the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium also known as Sarusajai Stadium, is being converted into a quarantine centre, with a capacity to house approximately 1,000 people. (Source: Twitter/ Himanta Biswa Sarma)

For example, in Assam — one of the few states in India without a positive case — the massive Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium also known as Sarusajai Stadium, is being converted into a quarantine centre, with a capacity to house approximately 1,000 people. On Thursday morning, photos tweeted by Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma showed masked workers busy under a large U-shaped shed, laying the framework of the quarantine facility — slated to be up and running by the end of the week. “We are establishing large home quarantine camps here — if a positive case emerges in a family, this is where other members of the family will be brought. There will be facilities for food, attached bathroom etc,” said Sarma. The government has also decided to rent flats near the designated centre, to house 200 doctors. “If we have to get private doctors in, or ones from villages etc —  this is where they will be accomodated,” he said.

In West Bengal, where there are nine reported cases, the government has readied a quarantine centre at Kaliyaganj in Uttar Dinajpur. “The centre has male and female ward, nursing station, doctors’ room and separate rooms for health workers, cleaning staff and security personnel,” tweeted MP Derek O’Brien.

Contingency plans activated in Kerala

In states where cases of infection have run into triple digits, like Kerala, contingency plans have been activated. When the outbreak happened, the Kerala health department had gauged the number of doctors, nurses, health staff, medicines, protective kits, isolation beds and ventilators that would be required, and devised three plans (A, B and C), each with different statistics.

Earlier this week, the health department unveiled a skeletal framework of plans ‘B’ and ‘C’ — part of emergency measures as cases crossed 100. 

The Gandhi Hospital has been converted into a centre to exclusively treat COVID-19 patients. Express photo by Rahul V Pisharody

When the virus was detected among three medical students from Wuhan in February, plan A (50 government and  two private hospitals with thousand isolation beds) was implemented. When all three students recovered from the illness and were discharged, the plan was proved successful. 

As part of plan B, the government has coordinated services of 71 government and 55 private hospitals. Plan B has 1,408 isolation beds and 17 more that have been identified. Plan C was prepared when a three-member from Italy and their two primary contacts tested positive. Nearly 900 people had been quarantined as they were suspected to have had primary or secondary contact with the family from Italy. 

Bengaluru’s iconic Victoria Hospital now runs to treat only patients affected by the novel coronavirus. Express photo by Ralph Alex Arakal

If community transmission becomes a reality (the government has maintained that the state is yet to reach that stage), authorities will move towards implementing plan C. This plan has 81 government and 41 private hospitals, with 3,028 isolation beds. 

In addition, the Kerala government has set up 147 ‘Corona Care Centres’ which will house those who have no residential status in the state. These centres can house over 21,000 people at a time, the government claimed. 

COVID-19 Only

In most states, hospitals are being converted into “COVID-19 only” treatment centres. Established in 1851, the famous Gandhi Hospital at Secunderabad has become the main centre of treating COVID-19 patients in Telangana, which has reported 44 cases so far. In Mizoram, too, which reported its first case on Wednesday (a 50-year-old pastor who had travelled to Amsterdam), the State Referral Hospital in Falkawn, located about half an hour from the capital Aizawl, is “COVID-19 only”.

With 55 positive cases in Karnataka, Bengaluru’s iconic Victoria Hospital is now a dedicated hospital for the treatment of coronavirus-related cases. On Sunday, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said: “The 1700-bedded Victoria Hospital will now be turned into a dedicated hospital for COVID-19 treatment. The patients who are admitted to the hospital now will be shifted to other hospitals.”

The Karnataka government is also procuring 1,000 ventilators, 10 lakh masks, and 5 lakh Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to strengthen their fight against the virus.

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In Tripura, the state government has converted 18 buildings, including 12 public rest houses, two guesthouses and four newly-constructed Primary Health Center (PHC) buildings into quarantine centres, apart from a few hospitals at Agartala. These can accommodate 1,800 patients at a time. Dr Deep Debbarma, state nodal officer, for COVID-19, said that around sixty isolation beds are ready in several locations including Gobinda Ballabh Pant (GBP) Hospital, the apex state-run hospital, in case any patient needs isolated containment.

Mass hiring medical staff

The emergency-like situation has also called for emergency-like measures, leading to states fast-tracking medical staff hires. The Kerala government also hired 276 doctors through the Public Service Commission (PSC) on a single day.

A newly-set up quarantine centre in West Bengal. (Twitter/Derek O’ Brien)

In Assam, 700 MBBS final year students, who are set to graduate in the next two months, have been earmarked for a COVID-19-specific training module. “These [graduates] are more or less doctors already,” said Sarma, Assam’s health minister. Also roped in are final-year nursing students, private doctors who wish to volunteer etc. “Exam results of ward boys and girls are being sped up too. This is so that we have more doctors to deal with the situation,” said Sarma.

With inputs from Neha Banka in Kolkata

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