Delhi tops country's Covid-19 tally, experts call for lockdown

While the govt blames festivals and people’s laxity in adhering to social distancing and other Covid-appropriate behaviour for the surge, doctors and public health experts suggest immediate decisive steps to minimise the spread of the virus.

NEW DELHI: With Delhi contributing more Covid-19 cases than any other state, and patients struggling to find beds in hospitals, health experts have called for drastic measures — some even suggesting another lockdown — to combat the pandemic amid severe air pollution in the national capital.

While the government blames the festival season and people’s laxity in adhering to social distancing norms and other Covid-appropriate behaviour for the surge, doctors and public health experts suggest immediate decisive steps to minimise the spread of the virus.

“I strongly feel the situation will worsen,” said Anoop Misra, chairman of Fortis-C-DOC Hospital that specialises in diabetes, metabolic diseases and endocrinology. “A seven-day partial lockdown (shutting down metros and bus services) may help,” he said.

The national capital on Sunday recorded 7,745 new coronavirus cases, its highest single-day spike till date and the highest in the country for a second time in three days. Delhi had recorded 7,178 coronavirus cases on Friday.

Giridhar R Babu, a member of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s national task force on Covid-19, said the surge in active cases in Delhi, constituting 44% of the total active cases in mega cities, is of concern. “The current situation could be attributed to lack of sustained leadership in Covid-19 response by the Delhi team, poor testing strategy in earlier phase (high leverage of rapid antigen test and lack of syndromic approach in testing) and poor containment efforts,” he said.

It is also concerning to see a surge in mortality with the death per million increasing from 292 to 369, second only to Mumbai (511), Babu said.

He said Delhi needs to revisit its home isolation strategy, especially for Covid-19 patients with comorbidities. “Instead of sustained efforts in Covid-19 response of efficient testing, tracing and tracking, terming it as third wave is deflecting from the reality,” Babu said.

He, however, did not support another lockdown. “The lockdown was meant to prepare well and to decrease the speed of transmission. No need to lockdown now, while the objectives are not met in the earlier phase.”

Sandeep Budhiraja, group medical director at Max Healthcare, said it’s worrying that the infection rate has climbed up to 15.26% even as mortality rate is just under 1%, and that hospitals are struggling to keep up with the rise in infection. “We are recording very high Covid-19 occupancy and are facing a shortage of ICU beds needed for patients having severe symptoms,” he said.

He said it’s imperative that people do not let their guards down in the festive season and take all precautions including appropriate social distancing and use of masks. “The hospitals and the medical teams are doing their best and working round the clock; we need citizens to be a little more mindful of the perils of this highly contagious disease,” Budhiraja said.

According to the available data, Max Healthcare had just two ICU beds vacant as on Monday.

The situation is grim in both government and private hospitals in the capital.

The state government has once again asked the hospital to allocate 50% of total bed capacity for treatment of Covid-19.

Naveet Wig, head of department of medicine at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said routine care should be avoided at this point in time. “Focus on emergency care is must, routine care can wait for two weeks,” he told ET.

He called for reactivating temporary healthcare facilities developed across Delhi on a war footing, and triaging or prioritising patients to ensure “mild cases don’t swamp tertiary care facilities” to prevent increasing mortality seen in Delhi in recent times.

Wig, too, is not in favour of another lockdown. “A timely and effective lockdown was required initially to ensure our health infrastructure was ready, but the lockdown can’t go on forever,” he said. “Possibly a fatigue has set in and as expected people have given up at the most crucial time without realising the consequences. Air pollution has also complicated the situation.”

Wig said social vaccination (use of mask and social distancing) is a must and social gatherings must not be allowed. “Extended holiday is another option,” he said. “Work from home where feasible even in government settings should be encouraged… Travel restrictions should be strictly implemented.”

He also suggested judicious use of rapid antigen testing at high crowded places and ensuring use of Arogya Setu app.
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