Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan noted that air-conditioned trains pose a threat of disease transmission, stating that he would notify the Centre and Indian Railways on the issue.

Passengers boarding special AC trains during lockdown from Howrah to DelhiTwitter / Ministry of Railways
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 07:42

For the first time since the country went into a lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, the Indian Railways has resumed passenger train services in a phased manner. Fifteen pairs of special trains, all of which have fully air-conditioned coaches, will be operated across 15 Indian cities, beginning Tuesday (May 12). Though the news brings relief to thousands of people who have been stranded across the country far away from home, health experts have sounded the alarm on the safety of people being transported in air-conditioned trains.

According to experts, there is a greater risk of virus transmission in closed facilities. Independent health practitioners as well as the Kerala state government have stated that the move will put lives of many in danger.

“Air-conditioned coaches are closed spaces with less ventilation. Not all COVID-19 infected people are symptomatic, yet they can spread the infection. Imagine if there are such people in these trains without adequate ventilation. The chance of others getting infected through this person will be very much higher compared to the same people travelling in adequately-ventilated facilities. The virus particles coming out of the infected person through a cough or a sneeze will stay in the atmosphere without proper ventilation for longer, thus risking lives of many,” Dr Sulphi Noohu, Vice President of the Kerala chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), told TNM.

In south India, the special trains travel to and fro between Delhi — Bengaluru, Delhi — Chennai and Delhi — Thiruvananthapuram. The trains will make stops in between other major cities.

Experts say that the guidelines issued by the Centre for home quarantine directs people to avoid air-conditioned rooms.

“In unavoidable circumstances, specific guidelines are directed to regulate temperature and humidity of the air-conditioners. The temperature should be between 24 and 30 degree Celsius, humidity should be set from 40% to 70%. It also mandates that there should be adequate ventilation and should not be fully-closed rooms. But what we do not understand is why, when Railways have adequate non-air conditioned coaches, only AC coaches are used,” asked Dr Mohammed Asheel, executive director of the Kerala Social Security Mission.

Dr Mohammed points out that studies have found a correlation between air-conditioning and disease transmission.

“Whenever a health-related decision is made, we do a risk-benefit analysis. In this case, the benefit is that people will be more comfortable travelling in an AC coach, while the risk is a higher chance of contracting the disease,” he added.

According to Dr Sulphi, the IMA is holding discussions to assess the situation. “IMA has not yet put out a statement in this regard, but we definitely identify the risk factor involved in this,” Dr Suphi said.

On Tuesday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan cautioned that journeys in air-conditioned trains pose a threat, stating that he would notify the issue to the Centre as well as the Indian Railways.

“The days-long journey in air-conditioned trains pose a threat of disease transmission. There are similar such experiences around the world. Not only trains, other air-conditioned vehicles also pose a threat. Similar experiences are there in India too. In Punjab’s Hazur Sahib, there was an incident of people contracting the disease after travelling in air-conditioned buses. Out of the 4,198 people who came in AC buses, 1,217 people were infected. It has been found that the disease was transmitted during the journey for most people. It is better to have non-AC trains and vehicles,” said Pinarayi Vijayan.

However, it is to be noted that the Kerala Chief Minister, in a video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, asked the Centre to grant permission to resume metro rail services in non-red zones. However, metro trains in the state are air-conditioned.


Travelling by train to Kerala during lockdown? Here’s what you need to know

Only online booking, no linen or catering on board special trains set to run from May 12

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