Why AC trains might not be safe amid COVID-19 outbreak: Doctors explain the dangers
Photo Credit: ANI

After almost one and a half month, people who wanted to go back to their hometown can breathe a sigh of relief. Why, you ask? Because, finally, with the gradual resumption of passenger train services, those stuck in various parts of Indian can finally make it home.

The train services, which were halted due to the nationwide lockdown owing to coronavirus outbreak, will resume from May 12. It is said the Railways will run 15 pairs of trains and the reservation for these special trains will start at 4 pm on May 11. Initially, only air-conditioned services will begin on 15 Rajdhani routes and the fare would be equivalent to that of the super-fast trains.

While that might be a good news for some, one cannot help but ask, given the current situation and the number of coronavirus cases rising everyday, will these air-conditioned coaches become the new carriers of the deadly virus?

While shedding light on this, Dr. Rohan Sequeira, Consultant General Medicine at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, in a conversation with Free Press Journal, said, "You can't avoid the spread of coronavirus in air-conditioned compartments. As it is a closed compartment and a long journey chances of coronavirus spreading are higher."

While talking about how air-conditioned compartment spread viruses Dr. Sequeira said, "Air-conditioned compartment or spaces have a concept called re-circulation of air. It has been found, not only during coronavirus outbreak but in any kind of infectious diseases, most of these infectious viruses get stuck in the filters of ACs. So there should be proper protocol for cleaning of the AC filters."

He also said that social distancing must be maintained by keeping one seat vacant between each passenger. "As social distancing is mandatory for curbing the spread of coronavirus, I think railways should follow a policy of where they keep one seat vacant between the passengers, so at least some social distancing is maintained. Also, there should be severe fine for people who are found not wearing a mask in the train, or else people will not take the mask seriously."

But, senior family physician, Dr. K R Dhebri says it’s a good move. "In this hot and humid climate, I feel it is a good idea to have AC trains.”

While running of trains is certainly a good start, but what about asymptomatic patients who might also travel with others? “Asymptomatic patients are a big problem as there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic. If a person doesn’t have COVID-19 symptoms, but wears a mask at all times and follows social distancing norms, such a person is less likely to spread the virus. Even in Mumbai, around 80% of the people are asymptomatic patients who necessarily aren't spreading the virus."

Dr. Sequeira also suggests issuing of a corona certificate to passengers who are travelling in these trains. "All people boarding the train should get a corona certificate (fit to travel certificate) like in the airlines, but considering the volume of people travelling by train will be very difficult. But if the aim to get people home safely then the government should issue a corona certificate to these passengers only then they will be given a ticket."

He also suggests people who have travelled through these trains should be given a mandatory 14-day quarantine once they reach their destination.

So the onus will also be on the Railways that the boogies are well sanitised after passengers deboard the train. Talking about the sanitization process, Shivaji Sutar, CPRO, Central Railway said, "Yes, sanitisation process will be carried out. Train compartments, as well as stations, will be sanitised."

The special trains will run from New Delhi to Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi.

These trains will run on full capacity, but no concession in fare is likely to be allowed. Booking for reservation in these trains will start at 4 pm on May 11 and will be available only on the IRCTC website (https://www.irctc.co.in/).

These tickets, officials say, would have details of the 'dos and don'ts' passengers need to follow -- such as arriving at the station at least an hour in advance for screening and other coronavirus protocols, mandatory use of masks and use of the Arogya Setu mobile app. It will be mandatory for travellers to wear face cover and undergo screening at departure and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board the trains.

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