Coronavirus pandemic: From cancelling trains to increasing platform tickets, Indian Railways goes full throttle to contain outbreak
As India grapples to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic in the country with cases crossing the 160 mark, the Indian Railways has taken steps to minimise the outbreak in the country. It cancelled a total of 168 trains due to low occupancy after the COVID-19 outbreak and announced that these trains will remain suspended from 20 March to 31 March.
As India grapples to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic with confirmed cases crossing the 160-mark in the country, the Indian Railways has taken steps to minimise the outbreak. On Thursday, it cancelled a total of 168 trains due to low occupancy after the COVID-19 outbreak and announced that these trains will remain suspended from 20 to 31 March. The national transporter had earlier cancelled around 99 trains on Wednesday night.
The railways announced that all passengers who will be affected by these cancellations will be informed individually.
Indian Railways operates one of the largest railway networks in the world. On a daily basis, more than 20 million passengers travel across the country.
Earlier, 11 trains were cancelled each from the West Central Railway and Northern Railway, 20 each from the South Central Railway and Northeast Frontier Railway, 32 from the Southern Railway, five from the East Central Railway.
The Indian Railways has now issued a set of guidelines to its catering staff stating that no employee having fever, cough, runny nose or difficulty in breathing "should be deployed in the business of food handling on the Indian Railways".
Given below are some preventive steps taken the railways authorities to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Steps taken by Railways
According to a press release by the government, these following actions have been followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection in Indian Railways:
- Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) material (posters and pamphlets) regarding coronavirus are being prominently displayed for awareness of the general public in local language at railway stations and in trains and are also being distributed to patients visiting hospitals and in railway colonies. Audio and video clips are being played at railway stations to spread awareness. Public announcements are being made at stations.
- In railway hospitals, persons with fever are being separated from other patients. Separate counter/ward with specific signage for fever cases have been established. The medical staff has been deployed at such areas having proper protective gears.
- Railway hospitals have been provided with 1100 isolation beds for fever-related cases for treating suspected cases with the availability of necessary protective gears. Further, the railways has identified 12,483 beds for quarantine at different locations across the country.
- Medical staff have been advised that if any patient is suspected or reported in any of the railway hospital/health unit in Zone/PU, the same may be informed to Railway Board and local health authorities immediately.
- All medical in-charges of zones /PUs have been advised to be in constant touch with the respective state authorities to obtain the guidelines/updates issued on the subjects and take necessary detection, prevention and curative measures.
- Control rooms and telephone helplines have been set up at all Railway hospitals
- The Western Railway have decided to hike the cost of platform tickets by 400 percent in various cities under its jurisdiction.This steep hike means that a platform ticket which used to cost Rs 10 will now cost Rs 50. The new ticket price is effective in close to 250 stations in the five divisions under the Western Railway-Mumbai, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Ratlam, Rajkot and Bhavnagar. In a statement, the Railways said platform tickets will be sold at the new rates to avoid crowding at platforms.
- The Central Railway is also cleaning coach fittings such as grab handles, door handles, door latches, entry door handles, seat guard, snack trays, window glass, window grills, bottle holders, upper berth climbing stair that are frequently touched by passengers
Guidelines issued to catering staff
While dealing with food production, all catering staff have been ordered to follow the FSSAI's food safety norms/standards and also maintain personal hygiene. All staff have to compulsorily wear face masks, hand gloves etc. They are also ordered to stay away from people sneezing or coughing, frequently wash hands and avoid touching their face, mouth and nose with their hands.
In this regard, the Railway Board has directed all supervisors in catering establishments to impart counselling to their juniors. Employees who are in any of the catering services have been asked to wear a clean uniform on duty on a regular basis.
Also, all catering units will have to undergo thorough cleaning on a daily basis.
Even catering establishments have been asked to maintain proper cleanliness, use of disinfectant on frequently touched objects and surfaces. Ensure adequate provision of sanitizers, hand soaps, at all catering units are to be ensured.
Railway authorities in Mumbai are also actively taking steps to prevent the outbreak, with Maharashtra leading in the highest number of cases in India with 47 cases. Officials have trained their staff to identify commuters with symptoms of the novel coronavirus and help them reach the hospital where such patients are being treated, an official said on Thursday.
Local trains of the Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) ferry around 80 lakh commuters every day, which account for nearly half of the total number of passengers who travel by trains in the country daily. On an average over 5,000 people travel by a local train in Mumbai during peak hour.
"Station masters have been trained to spot symptoms of the coronavirus. They have been instructed to approach the passengers showing coronavirus-like symptoms and assist them to reach the nearest hospital," Shivaji Sutar, chief public relations officer of the CR told PTI.
The staff at Emergency Medical Rooms at railway stations have been sensitized about the virus, he added. If the staff spot a suspected coronavirus patient at a station, they have been asked to inform the district collector.
"Passengers too can approach the station master or call the railway helpline to report such suspected patients," Sutar added. Special helplines have been set up for this purpose, he stated.
The authorities are also trying to create awareness among commuters through posters about 'DOs & DON'Ts' and audio and video messages.
The Western Railway has set up a dedicated ward of 30 beds for suspected novel coronavirus cases at Jagjivan Ram Hospital at Mumbai Central, whereas the CR has set up isolation wards at its hospitals in Byculla and Kalyan.
"Isolation wards and high-contact surfaces are being sanitized regularly with disinfectants," said a WR release.
Health inspectors are conducting awareness drives in Railway colonies, offices and stations to prevent panic.
Awareness campaigns about how to ensure hygiene for the prevention of the virus infection are being carried out said the release.
But a commuter rights activist felt the steps were inadequate. "Considering the travel conditions in suburban locals during peak hours, the disease could spread widely," Subhash Gupta, member of the National Railway Users Consultative Committee told PTI.
Passengers arriving in Mumbai by long-distance trains should be screened, he said. But according to railway officials, screening of passengers at railway stations is practically impossible, looking at sheer numbers.
Inputs from agencies
Mumbai registered 978 cases of COVID-19 and two fatalities in the last 24 hours
Senior IMD Scientist R K Jenamani said there is a prediction of good rainfall in the city on June 30 and the arrival of the monsoon can be declared on Thursday or Friday.
Mumbai leads the active tally with 6,409 cases, followed by 5,335 in Pune district and 4,037 in Thane district