Indians Converting Cricket Stadium, University into Hospitals to Care for COVID Patients

As coronavirus cases in the northeastern state of Assam spread faster than anywhere else in India, officials are preparing to convert a stadium and a university into hospitals.

Cases in Assam began to surge last month, and on May 9, the state reached a weekly average of more than 4,700 cases. The state's largest government-run hospital has more than double the number of beds in its intensive care unit and has added another 200 in the parking lot.

"We are adding 1,000 beds a week to prepare ourselves in the event of cases spiraling," the director of the National Health Mission in Assam, Dr. Lakshmanan S., told the Associated Press.

About 430 more beds will be added after a football and cricket stadium is converted into a hospital for COVID-19 patients. The Royal Global University in the state capital of Gauhati will add 1,000 beds.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

India Assam COVID Hospital
An Indian health worker checks the temperature of a person arriving for the oath-taking ceremony of Assam's new chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, in Gauhati, Assam, India, on May 10, 2021. The state will convert a stadium and private university into hospitals to care for COVID-19 patients. Anupam Nath/AP Photo

Add to that recent elections in the state—and the huge political rallies that accompanied them—and experts fear a uncontrolled surge is on the horizon.

Worryingly, along with cities in India's northeastern frontier—which is closer to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan than it is New Delhi—cases have also started to spike in some remote Himalayan villages in the region.

Nationwide, India's Health Ministry reported 360,000 new cases in the past 24 hours Monday, with more than 3,700 deaths. Since the pandemic began, India has seen more than 22.6 million infections and more than 246,000 deaths—both, experts say, almost certainly undercounts.

The state is sending doctors, paramedics and medicine to these facilities and the university said it would provide books and newspapers for patients to read.

"This is the least we thought we could do in this time of huge crisis for our country," said Dr. A.K. Pansari, the university chairman.

There are 2,100 beds reserved in government centers for COVID-19 patients in Gauhati, with hundreds more planned. That's in addition to the existing 750 beds for patients at private hospitals in the state.

Even as infections have increased, the rates of vaccination have fallen in Assam and the other states in the region since India expanded its coverage to include all adults on May 1.

Adding to concerns is confirmation the virus has started spreading into more remote Himalayan villages with poor health infrastructure. These areas are home to indigenous tribes, whose are already face some of the lowest access to health care in the nation.

The region had largely been untouched by the virus earlier and many people behaved like COVID-19 didn't exist. But it now appears the virus was spreading in even remote villages without people knowing until it was too late.

The lack of awareness about the virus, lack or resources and the remoteness is complicating contact tracing in such areas, said Dr. Mite Linggi, the medical superintendent at the district hospital at Roing in Arunachal Pradesh state.

Despite the limited medical infrastructure and even more limited medical supplies, Linggi said what they really feared were power cuts.

"Power is crucial for running oxygen supply," he said. "We have patients gasping for air when the power comes and goes out."

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India Assam Vaccine
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Guwahati on January 16, 2021. The state of Assam will convert a stadium and private university into a hospital for COVID-19 patients. Biju BORO/AFP via Getty Images