Coronavirus outbreak: CR sews over 20,000 masks in-house. But are they safe to use?

Updated: Apr 04, 2020, 07:33 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

A senior official said shortage of mask and hand sanitiser is a stark reality

RPF personnel and a ticket checker make masks at the CR workshop
RPF personnel and a ticket checker make masks at the CR workshop

Spirit is fine, but what about safety? Central Railway's non-technical staff has set up an in-house sewing station, stitching 20,000 masks and counting. But the question is, are these masks going to protect them from Coronavirus? There was a surge in purchase of masks and hand sanitiser following the pandemic. This prompted the Indian Railways to stitch its own. A senior official said shortage of mask and hand sanitiser is a stark reality.

CR chief public relations officer Shivaji Sutar said over 22,000 masks have been prepared in-house by employees who volunteered to assist those working to run freight trains. "The volunteers include ticket chekers, Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTE), railway school teachers, peons, train guards, Railway Protection Force and workshop staff," he added. This is in addition to the contribution by two workshops in Parel and Matunga and also Mumbai division employees who have made over 8,500 masks alone. Over 2,500 litres of sanitiser has also been made by the CR staff.

A top CR official said these masks may not be N95 respirators, but they are good enough for basic protection. "We are following the guidelines of the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India," he added.

What advisory says

According to the advisory, scientists tested different household materials for homemade masks. To measure their effectiveness in stopping viruses, they bombarded 0.02 micron particles (5 times smaller than Coronavirus) on to these different materials. They found that a double layer of 100% cotton cloth is the most effective at capturing small particles. Any used cotton cloth, including old cotton vest or t-shirt can be used to make the mask. The advisory recommends washing the fabric after boiling it in water for 5 minutes before making a mask.

What doctors say

A senior doctor from Lokmanya Tilak Hospital, on condition of anonymity, said the railway officials should exercise caution with self-made cotton masks. "It is a wonderful gesture, but no use in medical and other high-risk settings. Won't protect against COVID-19. In fact, cloth masks have been found to retain viruses more than other types of masks. The observation is based on a study conducted by 1,607 hospital healthcare workers (HCWs) from 14 secondary-level/tertiary-level hospitals in Hanoi, Vietnam, that compared the efficacy of cloth masks to medical masks in HCW)," she said.

"A three-layer surgical mask is important to counter viruses and not cloth ones," said Dr Rita Savla, founder-director of RADHEE Disaster and Education Foundation who is working with government NGOs in fight against COVID-19.

WR readies citys 1st isolation rail coach

Western Railway has set up the first isolation rail coach for Mumbai at its Lower Parel workshop, as per the guidelines of the Railway Board. WR has targeted to set up 460 isolation coaches, Non-AC sleeper and general coaches have been selected for the project. Out of these, 170 will be undertaken by Mumbai division.

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