Govt plans five large coronavirus-dedicated hospitals as cases rise

Coronavirus cases in India continue to grow and the rapid screening method is likely to only increase the number of suspect COVID19 positive cases in the country. India is yet to enter stage 3 (or community transmission) of the pandemic, but the government is gearing up for eventual adversities.

Sources said the government was looking to have large, at least four or five, dedicated COVID19 hospitals in the country to isolate and treat the patients. The chief executive officer (CEO) of a large private hospital chain said ground work was on to identify properties that could be transformed into satellite hospitals (smaller centres). They could be defunct or upcoming hospitals, or hostels of educational institutions. They could be 
converted into 250- to 300-bed dedicated facilities.

“It is risky to have makeshift isolation wards in running hospitals because it puts the other patients at risk. Moreover, having staggered isolation wards in various places also makes it a logistical challenge to mobilise resources,” the CEO added.

He said all big private hospitals had infrastructure for isolation wards — 15-20 beds per hospital. These are kept for contagious diseases like swine flu. They have a separate air-conditioning system distinct from the rest of the hospital’s air-conditioning, to prevent the risk of spreading germs.     Private players such as the Infosys Foundation and Narayana Health Chairman Devi Shetty have urged the Karnataka government to empty a hospital with 500-700 beds to treat COVID-19 patients. 

“I request you to vacate one government hospital with at least 500-700 beds for this purpose, which requires oxygen lines and pipes. Infosys Foundation will do the civil work and Dr. Devi Shetty has agreed to share resources like medical equipment,” said Sudha Murty, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, in a letter to the chief minister of Karnataka.  In an emailed response, the Infosys Foundation said it did not have any further comments on the development at this point.

Once a facility is identified, the private sector can step in and equip the hospital in short time, said another hospital CEO. The state governments and the municipal corporations of major cities are on the job. In Mumbai, the 700-bed Seven Hills Hospital, which was built on BMC land at Andheri, has been converted into a COVID19 facility. 

Source: Data as uploaded by states-UTs on HMIS portal, status as of July 20, 2018

Tamil Nadu has 400 private isolation wards. There are 1,121 isolation wards in Tamil Nadu. State Health Secretary Beela Rajesh said: “We have roped in private hospitals and nearly 400 wards have been identified from the private sector and we are working with them in close coordination.” 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has asked to identify quarantine places along the borders, so that the government can keep them there itself if there are positive cases, rather than transporting them to other centres. He has also asked to identify and keep old engineering college hostels ready for the calamity. The state health department is keeping around 500 standby quarantine places in old engineering colleges on outskirts, Rajesh said. 

 Apollo Hospitals is ready to chip in. “We are fully prepared. There are discussions for us to test and treat patients in our facilities, if need arises. This is the war of our generation and all of us are stepping up,” said Shobhana Kamineni, executive vice-chairperson of Apollo Hospitals.

States feel that the measures taken till date should sustain the inflow of patients for the next two to three weeks. India has abysmally low hospital beds per capita and once the pandemic spreads, there would be hardly any time to create infra. 

In Kerala, where the country’s first COVID19 case was detected, has kept over 18,000 people under observation. Most of them are home quarantined. Meanwhile, Ernakulam will take over the spaces available in hostels of various educational institutions, hotels, hostels and private hospitals unutilised rooms to quarantine those who have infection. “All of us in the private sector are gearing up. If the situation arises, we are ready to convert one floor as an isolation facility which would accommodate up to 25-30 beds,” said Somesh Mittal, chief executive officer, Vikram Hospital.  

The Karnataka government has also announced that all passengers arriving from abroad will be quarantined for 15 days in private colleges, hospitals, budget hotels and resorts near the airport.

However, he feels the government should pick up a newly-built society or a hotel with 200-500 rooms which could be converted into an isolation centre for Covid-19 patients in a short span of time. 

The Karnataka government has also announced that all passengers arriving in the state from abroad will be quarantined for 15 days in private colleges, hospitals, budget hotels and resorts near the Kempegowda International Airport.

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