India Doesn’t Have Enough COVID-19 Beds. Now it Wants to Make the ‘World’s Largest’ Makeshift Hospital

Delhi, already struggling to cope with its 44,000 cases, is scrambling to prepare for 450,000 infections in 45 days.
17 June 2020, 12:27pm
India Doesn’t Have Enough COVID-19 Beds
A civil defence volunteer prepares a bed at a banquet hall temporarily converted into isolation ward for COVID-19 coronavirus patients after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in New Delhi on June 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of Prakash Singh / Getty

In anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 cases by the end of July, India’s capital is planning what is being described as the “world’s largest quarantine facility.” The proposal was announced on June 16 to reinforce a crumbling healthcare system overburdened by novel coronavirus infections.

The new quarantine facility, to be set up near Delhi’s border with the North Indian state of Haryana, will have 10,000 recyclable beds made out of cardboard to save on sanitation time. This is because the virus doesn’t remain on cardboard surfaces for more than 24 hours.

Coronavirus cases in Delhi have catapulted from 10,000 to more than 44,000 in just a few days, drawing attention to the fact that the city lacked enough hospital beds and was underprepared despite the lockdown.

A few days ago, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia speculated that the national capital would have to deal with more than 500,000 cases by July 31.

Currently, COVID-19 care wards in Delhi’s hospitals have a capacity of 5,974, while outside facilities with oxygen supply and beds can only take in 344 people.

In May, the Delhi government asked 117 private hospitals to earmark 20 percent of their beds to isolate COVID-19 patients. Throughout the outbreak, private hospitals India have been criticised for charging exorbitant rates that those in need can’t afford to pay.

A high-level panel has informed the Delhi government that, for every 100 hospital beds, the city would need 400 more beds in hotels, banquet halls or rest houses in religious places for patients with mild symptoms.

The 10,000-bed facility will be set up at the Radha Soami Spiritual Centre in Delhi’s Chhatarpur. Previously, this centre was being used as a shelter for migrant workers who were stuck in the city during the lockdown.

“This will be treated as a hospital for patients with coronavirus symptoms, and we expect to open in the first week of July,” a spokesperson from the Radha Soami Spiritual Centre, who did not wish to be named, told VICE over the phone.

The South Delhi district magistrate BM Mishra said that this temporary facility would function like 20 mini hospitals with 500 beds each, where about 400 doctors will work in two shifts. The facility will not be providing ventilators, instead referring patients with severe symptoms to super specialty hospitals.

The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has also offered to convert its gurudwaras and schools into COVID-19 care centres with a bed capacity of 850 for patients with mild symptoms. Even hotels and banquet halls are now being prepared in anticipation of the July surge of coronavirus patients.

Similarly, Thane district on the outskirts of India’s worst-hit city Mumbai, has also unveiled a 1000-bed temporary hospital specifically for coronavirus patients.

India enforced the world’s toughest lockdown in March 2020 to flatten the curve, and buy time for India’s healthcare system to ramp up their facilities. Many innovative measures were announced, including converting sports stadiums into quarantine facilities, and making exhibition centres and performance theatres in Mumbai into makeshift clinics. The Indian railway ministry also offered 20,000 train compartments as isolation wards in late March, though the large-scale rollout of these is yet to happen.

A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court by doctor Arushi Jain, who complained that there were still not enough quarantine facilities for doctors near hospitals. The court ruled that the need of the hour was to look after the doctors so they could take care of patients in these distressing times.

A 2019 report revealed that India only has one doctor for every 1,457 citizens. This, combined with strikes by resident doctors in Mumbai and Delhi threatening mass resignations for not being paid their salaries for up to three months, has left the specialised healthcare system overwhelmed.

“The population of India is too much compared to the number of qualified doctors in the country, and even the corona warriors aren’t getting proper accommodations or salaries,” Jain, who filed the Supreme Court petition, told VICE.

She points out that the government of India arbitrarily classified doctors as high and low risk, which she felt was unfair and demotivating for those on the frontlines.

India has also repeatedly been pulled up for dilapidated quarantine facilities, where suspected patients have to share bathrooms and don’t get proper food, water or sanitation.

When faced with a surge in coronavirus cases, many countries took cues from China’s makeshift clinics. In the U.S., university housing, convention centres and even parks were turned into temporary hospitals, while Russia built a clinic inspired by China’s 1,000 bed hospital in Wuhan, on the outskirts of Moscow. The U.K. built the NHS Nightingale hospital in nine days to provide intensive care treatment to coronavirus patients.

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