India’s Hospitals on Wheeler

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Divya Sharma, Staff Writer

For the first time in 167 years, India has closed its railways. The fourth-largest network of trains in the world, the Indian railroads, have converted their passenger cars into temporary isolation wards for COVID-19 patients. As the number of cases in India rises, the government wanted to alleviate the crowds in hospitals by turning people to receive medical care in trains. Currently, there have been a reported 26,917 cases and 826 deaths. For a population of over 1.3 billion people, that’s a relatively low number of cases. But as the virus mutates and crosses new borders, it’s only a matter of time before it could become harder to control.
Railway systems were first introduced to India in 1853 by the British. Initially, the trains were used for the fast transportation of raw materials and other goods the British used to carry across the country. The railways were then also used to carry passengers. Today, Indian railroads carry over 20,000 passengers a day and run for as much as 67,368 kilometers.
Due to the current pandemic that is COVID-19, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown on the whole country as a measure to slow the spread. The nationwide shutdown was effective on March 25, 2020. The lockdown was then extended to last until May 3, 2020, as there were no signs of it slowing down. Many shops and businesses have been closed, weddings have been canceled, and schools have closed. The $2.9 trillion economy isn’t expecting to see any growth in the fiscal year as things are moving incredibly slowly. The spread of the virus has taken a toll on every aspect of the country.
I spoke to my parents, who were born and raised in New Delhi, India, on their perspective about converting railways into mini hospitals and whether it makes sense to do so. Both my parents were optimistic about the resolution stating, “It’s bringing the railways to good use, especially with the lack of space and large population.” My mom elaborated saying, “It will help control crowding in hospitals, so help is available to as many people as possible.” She claims how it is important to note that the railways have been operating for over a century so sanitation is key: “I think that using the trains is okay as long as they thoroughly disinfect everything and make sure there are guidelines to follow to make operation more effective.”
Although using the railways as part of the initiative to help with the virus has been relatively effective, it comes with inevitable setbacks. My dad shares, “India is extremely behind in providing basic infrastructure to people. Even without a pandemic, everything is already stretched to its limits, and people do not have access to basic healthcare. So if a pandemic is added to the mix, then it is a recipe for disaster. Anything they can add to supplement the existing infrastructure would be welcomed.” As for the future of the virus in India, he says, “I’m pretty pessimistic about it. The volume of cases might go up drastically because India is such a huge country. There are so many other factors that have been adding to the stress of the pandemic, such as poverty, politics, religion, etc. It would be a herculean job to contain it. The number of cases isn’t as much as the U.S., but my fear is that it will just blow up.”
CNN reports that “Each sanitized carriage will be able to accommodate up to 16 patients, alongside a nurses’ station, a doctor’s cabin, and space for medical supplies and equipment….local health authorities will assign government doctors, paramedics, nurses, and volunteers to the trains.” The number of cases is climbing, and compared to how bad it could be for the second largest population in the world, India has done a decent job at containing it. Despite the efforts being made, the future’s looking grim for several countries across the globe.