New Delhi: With India seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases –– an increase of 81 cases in 24 hours ––the Centre has directed private hospitals across India to designate dedicated wings to treat the affected patients, prepare for sample collection, discharge patients who are stable and divide medical staff into two groups so that even if one group gets infected, the other can work.

At a high-level meeting conducted by Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba with the ministry of health and family welfare officials and other stakeholders on Sunday, the Centre decided to rope in private hospitals and give specific directives. The total number of cases rose to 396 on Sunday, from 315 on Saturday. According to sources, private hospitals have started vacating beds by discharging patients who were stable. Other patients requiring intensive care are being shifted to a wing to free up an entire building exclusively for Covid-19 cases.

The biggest challenge before private hospitals is the air-conditioning. Once a Covid-19 patient is admitted, infection can spread through the AC ducts. All hospitals have a common AC duct system servicing the entire wing.

“For us, one Covid-19 patient is the same as 500 Covid-19 patients. We need to make the same isolation arrangements because of AC ducts,” said a doctor involved in administration at a private hospital in Delhi. For instance, a top private hospital chain in south Delhi realised that its two wings are connected through the basement and would be useless for Covid-19 care as the air conditioning system is common.

Last week, there were discussions on the possibility of stopping air-conditioning. However, certain private hospitals pointed out that their buildings have been designed for air-conditioning and there is no scope for ventilation. There are no ceiling fans in any of the rooms, another private hospital chain stated.

Private hospitals have been asked to divide their staff into two groups. One group would proceed on paid leave for 14 days. The other group would treat the first batch of those admitted. “Health workers are the most prone to Covid-19. They are in direct contact with the patient suffering from a highly infectious disease. So, we have decided that medical staff would work in groups. If one group gets infected, the other group gets to work. This way patients continue to be treated,” said a hospital functionary.

Private hospitals have been asked to prepare an isolated area for sample collection. Out patients department, which would designated as a fever clinic or cough and cold clinic, would start this week. The directives have been given to private hospitals after two suspected Covid-19 patients could not be admitted at a top private hospital last week and were referred to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.

“We had no instructions from the government to admit any patient. We had been asked to only refer to a government hospital,” said a functionary of the same hospital. Private hospitals would gear up for secondary and tertiary care –– an area the government hospitals would not be able to handle if stage-3 (community transmission) of Covid-19 sets in. In such a scenario, patients who need critical care or more attention would be transferred from government hospitals to private hospitals.

The hospital administration, however, feels that there is a lot of confusion on the ground. “We do not have any guidelines from the government. There are no protocols in place in terms of ventillators, beds requirement or even projections,” said a representative of a third private hospital.

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