NEW DELHI: Neetu Sharma spent a sleepless night in the Railways' COVID-care coach stationed in Uttar Pradesh's Mau town, not because of fear of the disease or even the heat but because there were too many mosquitoes.
She and five members of her family, including her 11-month-old daughter Vanshika, were among the first group of 59 suspected COVID-19 patients to be admitted to any of the 960 modified coaches deployed as Level 1 COVID care centres across five states.
¨I spent the entire time worrying that if not coronavirus, my daughter will definitely contract malaria or dengue. Her face and her feet are covered with bites and she was crying all the time," Sharma said on Monday, recounting her experience in the COVID-customised coach on the night of June 20 (Saturday).
"There was also no supply of milk for the children. We had to get milk from our home in Ranipur which is a two-hour drive away," she told PTI over the phone from Mau.
Swarms of mosquitoes picked on them through their one night stay, the 32-year-old complained.
All six members of the Sharma family tested negative and were among the eight who were discharged on Sunday.
According to Sharma, while there were three colour-coded dustbins in the coach, no one came to clean them when they got stuffed with food plates and leftovers.
However, Sharma and her husband Krishnakant Sharma said they give full marks to the Railways for managing to turn around the coaches and provide so many amenities.
But they urged them to try a little harder to address the obvious issues.
¨There is no point getting one disease while you are being treated for another right? With rains just around the corner, the railways need to address this issue as soon as possible, otherwise they will have to start testing for malaria and dengue before they release patients from here, said Sharma.
Her husband added that though the Railways needed to be prepared for small children, the preparations overall were excellent given the many restrictions.
¨I am used to travelling by trains, but when I entered this one, I was taken aback at the sight of the modifications. The stay was comfortable, except for the mosquitoes which were everywhere. The mosquitoes came from under the beds and they should spray repellent under the seats," he said.
While the Railways has installed mosquito nets on the windows, the Sharmas said the door of the coaches were kept open all day, facilitating the entry of all kinds of bugs.
Krishnakant Sharma was admitted to the facility in Mau -- which is among the 372 such coaches deployed across Uttar Pradesh -- after he returned with his family from Mumbai.
While their samples were collected at a centre in Mau, they waited for the results while they were in the isolation ward of the Railways.
Equipped with handheld showers, mosquito nets, bio-toilets, power sockets, oxygen cylinders and more, the COVID-care coaches have it all to keep patients comfortable.
But controlling the heat in the steel bodied non air-conditioned coaches has been a huge challenge, officials said.
At the Mau station, officials said they had kept industrial pedestal fans and stacks of hay for the roof ready to beat soaring temperatures.
However, Krishnakant Sharma said the weather was quite cool the night of their stay and the fan was enough for them to be comfortable.
¨I don't know what we would do if the temperature had soared. But I have to say that unlike the reputation of the toilets in trains, the bathroom as well as the toilets in these coaches were clean and it was very convenient to use, even for my elderly mother," he said.
Krishnakant Sharma, who works at a furniture store in Mumbai's Virar area, also had a suggestion for the state government -- please serve more food for the adults and arrange for more milk for the babies.
There were three other babies in the group and the milk provided was just not enough.
¨I think the local government was serving the food. It was okay since I cannot demand home food, but just one-and-a-half litres of milk for four babies is definitely not enough. An 11-month-old baby cannot survive on this. At the time we were there, there were three more babies in the coaches. The only thing that they managed to eat was biscuits," he said.
In an effort to augment the government's efforts to build infrastructure to deal with the spread of coronavirus, the Railways has converted 5,321 non-AC sleeper class ICF (older design) coaches and developed them into COVID Care Level 1 centres for patients with mild symptoms or those suspected to have the infection.
Suspected and confirmed cases will be kept in separate coaches, officials said.
The 960 coaches already deployed include 503 coaches in Delhi and 372 in Uttar Pradesh.