Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

COVID Isolation Coaches and their deployment


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: COVID Isolation Coaches

Mains level: Not Much

The Union govt. has declared that 500 COVID isolation coaches would be deployed in Delhi. So far, over 5,000 coaches have been converted into COVID isolation coaches across India.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Health infrastructure in India is hardly capable of handling any  pandemic. Critically comment.

What are these COVID Isolation Coaches?

  • In March, Railways was sounded out by the PMO and the government’s multi-ministerial outbreak-containment apparatus that train coaches could also be used as a last resort to keep isolated patients.
  • So far, 5,321 non-AC sleeper class coaches of ICF variety (older design) have been converted by the 16 zonal railways through their workshops spread across India.
  • These are developed as COVID Care Level 1 centres—as per the Health Ministry classification of COVID facilities—where suspected cases or those with mild symptoms are to be kept.
  • Suspected and confirmed cases will be kept in separate coaches.

How were these coaches selected?

  • Early into the pandemic, health experts were of the view that air-conditioned environments might aid the spread of the virus.
  • Well-ventilated, airy environments were thought to be safer. India’s decision to use non-AC coaches for isolation has to be viewed in that context.
  • As per targets given to the 16 zonal railways, 5,000 older coaches, surplus to Railways’ operational needs, were marked for conversion.

What were the challenges faced?

  • The summer heat in the coach was always a matter of discussion.
  • Several ideas were discussed, including erecting shamianas over the coaches or painting the roof with “solar reflective” paints.
  • Another question was how to dispose of toilet waste if the coaches were in remote areas and whether such waste was potentially infectious.
  • It was agreed that since chlorine tablets are placed in the chambers of the bio toilets, the risk was neutralised.
  • In any case, bio-enzymes in the toilet tanks take care of human waste.
  • Another question was the placement. The batteries of the coaches need to be charged and the water needs to be replenished. Not all areas in India might have such facilities.
  • The idea was that being mobile units, they could be dispatched to any part of the country to pick up patients and come back to their bases.

Deployment of such train

  • Each isolation train will be tied to the nearest hospital.
  • The Centre will not deploy these coaches at will; states will have to request for them.
  • At least 10 coaches, or one train, will have to be deployed in one place. States can request for more.
  • Besides the 500 being deployed in Delhi, Telangana has requested for 60 coaches in three locations, and UP has requested in 24 locations.
  • Many states are said to be informally enquiring about the coaches in zones.

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