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India & Pakistan convert trains into mobile COVID-19 hospitals

The mobile isolation units are ready to ship out to any part of the country connected by rail lines, offering much needed relief to local authorities in Pakistan’s hardest-hit regions, Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad announced on Monday at the Rawalpindi train station in Punjab, a major stop on the Karachi–Peshawar line.

Some 220 coaches have been specially equipped to house and treat patients, each containing nine beds, the Dawn newspaper reports.

Train stations in all seven divisions administered by Pakistan Railways – in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Sukkur, Rawalpindi and Multan – have also been fitted with 100 beds and a ventilator each, further taking pressure off local healthcare systems.

Pakistan has suspended all passenger rail services amid the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing only freight cars to deliver vital food and supply shipments around the country. While Ahmad said he hoped passenger lines could reopen sometime in April, he noted they would remain shuttered until authorities could get a handle on the outbreak, which has sickened some 1,700 Pakistanis and killed 21, according to Johns Hopkins University.

India, too, has signaled plans to convert rail cars into moving isolation wards, with the state-owned Indian Railways presenting a prototype for the project over the weekend. Once cleared by authorities, the train operator hopes to convert 10 coaches into quarantine units each week to serve its 16 zones, which make up the world’s fourth largest rail network. Despite boasting a population of over 1.3 billion, India has confirmed only around 1,250 cases of the virus to date, with 32 deaths.