This comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi put the country into lockdown on 25 March – and as confirmed case numbers in India reach 4,858, with 136 deaths. Although many believe that these figures could be much higher considering that India’s Covid-19 testing rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Indian Railways, Asia’s oldest railway network (having been in operation for 167 years), is the world’s fourth-largest rail operator and the biggest employer in India. The company currently operates 125 hospitals across the country, as well as the Lifeline Express, the hospital on a train launched in 1991, which provides on-the-spot diagnostic, medical and advanced surgical treatment for adults and children. As such, Indian Railways is using this knowledge and experience to turn its 20,000 mobilised train carriages into isolation wards to treat the growing number of Covid-19 patients.
"Now, the railways will offer clean, sanitised and hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover," Piyush Goyal, the Railways Minister, said in a tweet.
Executive Director of Information and Publicity at the Railway Board has asserted that the first 5,000 isolation wards will be ready within a fortnight.
While hospitals are not yet experiencing huge strain, many have commended India’s quick tactics. For a long time now, India’s number of hospital beds has fallen well below that prescribed by the OECD – India has 0.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people. However, the health infrastructure in the country remains a problem; even with the newly created bed capacity, many remain concerned over the lack of accessible public healthcare.
"It [isolation wards in train carriages] is a good initiative. The railways and the Government should be commended for it," said Jhahid Jameel, an Indian virologist and CEO of Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, a public charity that funds research into health and biomedical sciences. "But this is only a short-term solution. When this is over (and it will be), let this be a wake-up call to invest more towards improving health infrastructure and research."
Globally, there have now been 1,350,841 confirmed case numbers, with 74,870 deaths and 289,109 recoveries.