NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – India said on Saturday it was 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.
“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 reported 918 confirmed cases, including 19 deaths.
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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 villages or crowded bus stations in the hopes of finding rare transport, raising fears they will unintentionally spread the virus across India.
On Saturday, a migrant worker, who set out from New Delhi on a 270 kilometres (168 miles) walk to his hometown in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, collapsed and died, a police official said.
India’s home ministry said in a statement on Saturday it was advising states to provide food and shelter to migrants at relief camps alongside highways.