There will be no new lockdown in the national capital and the peak of the third wave of infections appears to have been crossed, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said on Monday, a day after the Union government announced reinforcement of infrastructure and human resources to tackle what has been described as possibly the worst outbreak of Covid-19 anywhere in the country yet.
In the last week, Delhi has recorded an average of 7,341 cases every day, compared to 4,174 during its second wave of infections in September and 3,446 during the first wave in June. This number was a mere 2,885 a month ago, before the situation rapidly deteriorated as festive seasons crowds gathered across the Capital.
“I can assure that the peak of the third wave of cases in November has been crossed. If you look at the daily positivity rate, it had touched 15% and hasn’t reached that level since. It takes about a week for the numbers to go down from the peak,” said Jain, stating that the peak positivity rate during the surge in June had reached up to 37% and in September to about 14%.
But experts said Jain’s contention may be premature, since there are likely to have been fewer tests due to festivities over the weekend. The government’s health bulletin on Sunday – which carried numbers reported on Diwali, the day before – added around 3,200 cases from roughly 21,000 tests.
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The number of tests was close to a third of what they are on a usual week day. On Monday, there were 3,797 new cases reported from the 29,821 tests that were done on Sunday. The death toll rose by 99 to reach 7,713 on Monday.
The surge triggered speculation of new restrictions, but the minister denied any plans for it. “The lockdown had been an experiment and what we have learnt that wearing masks can give us the same benefits,” said Jain, citing the examples of hospitals where he said infections are low since doctors take precautions.
“If everyone follows precautions the spread of the infection can be prevented. And, when it comes to lockdown, some people still go out and they can bring the infection back to their family members,” he added.
On Sunday, Union home minister Amit Shah held a meeting with top ministers and officials from the Centre and the Delhi government, including chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the two health ministers. The government announced a series of measures, including adding hundreds of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, doubling the rate of testing and the deployment of central paramilitary doctors.
During the meeting, Niti Aayog’s VK Paul opened with a presentation describing Delhi’s situation as “unprecedented” and “ likely to become worse”. The official highlighted a particularly worrying trend: on November 11, a day when it reported 8,593 new cases, Delhi recorded 361 cases per million of population, a level not seen before in India, not even in Maharashtra during its worst days.
On Monday, the Union home ministry followed up on these measures by announcing a list of “multidisciplinary teams” that will visit all private hospitals and submit within two days a report of whether they are following protocols on Covid-19 treatment and access to services as per rules.
Earlier in the day, Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla met Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Delhi’s chief secretary Vijay Kumar Dev to fine-tune other decisions taken on Sunday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Among these were ways to strengthen the containment strategy of Delhi as well as using resources of various departments such as the municipal corporations of Delhi, central armed police forces, Indian Council of Medical Research and Defence Research and Development Organisation, one of these officials said, asking not to be named.
“Central paramilitary forces will provide 75 doctors and around 250 paramedics to Delhi from their different centres across the country,” this person said. “These doctors and paramedics will be flown into Delhi in the next week .”
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Individual departments involved in the ramping up of the response – from the Delhi as well as the central administrations – too held separate meetings, this person added. The ministry of home affairs will monitor the progress on a daily basis while the Delhi government and these departments — which includes MCDs — will implement the directions issued by the home minister.
Bhalla is learnt to have stressed during the meeting on the need for robust public awareness campaigns for people to avoid crowds in markets and public places. Delhi Police has also been asked to assist the Delhi government in its efforts to fight the pandemic, the person quoted above added.
Experts said the crisis is unlikely to have passed just yet. “There was a dip in numbers, but it is too soon to say whether the infections have peaked. In fact, I think that it isn’t even true decline. With Diwali, fewer people might have gotten tested. We are likely to see these cases on Monday again,” said Dr Vikas Maurya, director, department of pulmonology and sleep disorders at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
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