With thousands of its staff engaged in work to maintain delivery of essential services and allied activities in the face of the pandemic outbreak, and a countrywide in-house healthcare apparatus at its disposal, Indian Railways has decided to try and create its own COVID-19 test centres at its hospitals, and has earmarked over Rs 300 crore for it.
It has been decided to create its own testing capability in light of the fact that while almost 50 per cent of its own hospital beds have been dedicated for COVID-19 cases, it has some 13 lakh employees and an equal number of pensioners along with families who are direct beneficiaries of Railway health services.
Two of its employees have succumbed to the virus, both in West Bengal, while one of its female doctors in Tamil Nadu had tested positive recently.
India has a shortage of diagnostic kits, called the RT Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kits. While foreign companies have cited global demand in the pandemic, only two Indian companies have so far been validated by the government lab in Pune even as others have queued up for validation.
Considering all these facts, Railway Board is learnt to have instructed all zones to tap into the funds available and explore ways to procure PCR testing kits for COVID-19 for in-house capability.
Sources said that cases of staff working in some private hospitals in India contracting the novel coronavirus without having their own in-house testing mechanism, wherein they had to rely on civil hospitals to test the cases, worked as a wake-up call for a section of the policymakers in Railways, following which this idea was mooted.
Even after owning such a large healthcare apparatus consisting of 586 health units, 45 sub-divisional hospitals, 56 divisional hospitals, eight hospitals in production units and 16 large zonal hospitals spread all over the country, Railways does not have its own testing ability.
On Wednesday (8th April 2020), the national transporter decided to earmark more than 2500 doctors and 35000 paramedics for COVID-19 outbreak in its hospitals. And more doctors and paramedics are being recruited on temporary basis at various zonal railways for managing the outbreak, an official statement said.
Stepping up, Railways has identified 50 of its hospitals for COVID-19 treatment with 5000 dedicated beds. While 17 of those hospitals are completely dedicated for this, 33 are identified as for “dual use” wherein some blocks with separate entry and exit, have been marked for this.