India to convert idle trains into coronavirus isolation wards

India is planning to turn some railway coaches into isolation wards for patients with coronavirus, as authorities scramble to prepare the country’s health infrastructure for an expected surge in cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the country’s 1.3 billion people this week to stay indoors for three weeks in the world’s biggest lockdown, seeking to curb the spread of the illness. India’s network of trains, the country’s lifeblood, has been idled.

One train coach has been turned into a prototype quarantine facility, state-owned Indian Railways said in a statement on Saturday.

Once they get clearance, the plan is for each of India’s railway zones to convert 10 coaches into such wards every week, the company added. Indian Railways has 16 zones, according to its website.

Indian Railways could help in bringing isolation wards in regions and villages with poor health infrastructure

“Railways will offer clean, sanitised & hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover,” tweeted railways minister Piyush Goyal. He did not specify how many people could be cared for in each coach.

India has so far reported 873 confirmed cases, including 19 deaths.

The lockdown measures are taking a huge toll on India’s poor, including millions of migrant labourers whose jobs in cities have vanished. Many are now walking back to their home villages with public transport cancelled.

The Indian railways is waiting for approval from health experts to build more such wards