Of the 503 ‘COVID-19 care railway coaches’ allotted to the Capital by the Ministry of Railways for treatment of mild or very mild cases, more than half (267) will be stationed at the Anand Vihar railway station in east Delhi.
A skeletal crew in charge of preparing the coaches are the only personnel at the station, which used to see thousands of passengers daily before the lockdown was imposed. The nearby metro station is not operational and the ISBT also wears a deserted look.
As authorities implement contingency plans across the city ahead of “peak” in cases, labourers at the railway station are busy cleaning, fixing signboards and preparing the area for its new role.
Carrying signboards that read ‘Green Zone’, ‘Red Zone’, ‘Donning Room’ and so on, Jai Narayan, a contractor, said: “We have been working for the last two-three days and mainly fixing the boards at various places across the station according to the instructions we get. A group of workers from the New Delhi railway station have also been brought here to assist us.”
A separate set of people are deployed for the coaches to ensure they are sanitised and prepared to take in patients.
One Indian-style toilet has been converted into a bathing room. One cabin will be used by paramedics and also serve as a storage area, and will have two plastic curtains to screen it from the rest of the eight ‘bays’. The middle berths in the rest of the coach have been removed so that each bay can accommodate two patients on the lower berths — a capacity of 16 per coach.
“The coaches are almost ready and we are not entering them. We will leave once our work is done; and then one needs to wait to see when the patients start coming. Once they do, we will start working in shifts. There will be three shifts and one person needs to be there at all times to ensure water supply to the coaches is not interrupted,” said Pawan Kumar, another worker.
The 267 coaches will be able to accommodate 4,000 patients, said officials.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry said: “These isolation coaches, serving as COVID Care Centres, shall offer care only for cases that have been clinically assigned as mild or very mild; or COVID suspect cases. Each isolation train must be mapped to one or more dedicated COVID Health Centre and at least one dedicated COVID hospital for referral purpose where the patients can be shifted in case their condition starts to deteriorate.”
On June 17, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had inspected the isolation coaches at the Shakur Basti railway station and expressed concerns over the high temperature inside the bogies.
On Friday, the Railways clarified that non-AC coaches were chosen due to the “unsuitability of AC coaches in view of the potential transmission risk of COVID-19 virus through AC ducting… and generally a higher temperature was expected to assist in fighting the virus”.
Films of bubble wrap, water mist systems and portable coolers are being set up inside the coaches to reduce the ambient temperature, said the government.