The Delhi government has started sending early warnings of its failure by building a narrative about a Covid case explosion expected by July-end
The spectre of Delhi’s coronavirus cases touching 5.5 lakh by July 31 is seeing a storm build up in the city state where the elected AAP government and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal find themselves pitted against each other over the strategy to deal with the colossal task of ensuring health and safety of Delhiites.
With Delhi cases doubling almost every 12 days and the number of active cases currently hovering around 32,000, with nearly 1,000 deaths, the blame game over the so-called “mishandling” of the pandemic has started between Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government and the L-G, who reports to the Central government.
The bickering has started intensifying at a time when there continues to be a big suspense on the question whether the community transmission of coronavirus has begun in Delhi. Kejriwal Cabinet’s Health Minister Satyendar Jain said that there is a strong possibility that community transmission may have started in the Capital as half of the coronavirus cases in Delhi cannot be traced to any source. And, according to medical experts, untraced source of infection is one of the primary indicator of community transmission. Jain, however, added that only the Central government is in a position to arrive at a correct conclusion on community transmission.
Baijal, who has now started taking a lead role in steering Delhi’s anti-coronavirus fight, has held meetings of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, reflecting his diminishing faith in the Kejriwal government’s ability to fight off the pandemic. The brainstorming sessions, which also included a meeting with all political parties, also came in the backdrop of a major disagreement between L-G and the AAP government over a proposal to bar residents of other states from availing medical facilities in the Capital that is struggling to handle the crisis. The L-G also reversed a decision by the Kejriwal government to test only those showing symptoms of Covid-19 and said asymptomatic cases and high-risk contacts of a virus patient will also be tested.
Political exchanges over the corona crisis have also increased with Delhi Congress moving the apex human rights body over the allegedly poor health provisions in the city. Former Union Cabinet minister Ajay Maken urged the National Human Rights Commission to issue immediate directions to the Delhi government and the Central Government to ensure 70% of the available beds be immediately prepared and reserved for Covid patients.
“It is extremely painful to see that only 12% of the Delhi government, 8% of the Central government institutions and 7% of the private hospital beds are presently occupied and prepared to treat Covid patients. Moreover, in the Delhi government hospitals, even around 70% of dedicated beds are vacant,” said Maken, a former Delhi Congress chief.
Maken said, “The latest Delhi Health Bulletin indicates, 27 out of every 100 patients being tested is Covid positive. Coupled with the fact that more than 50% of the source is untraceable, this in a way is community spread. Delhi should not open up further unless the positivity rate per 100 tested comes down to less than 10%.”
The Congress leader said, “When positivity rate is touching 30%, the Delhi Government is reducing number of tests. Recently, it was reduced by almost half to 3,700 a day, lowest in last one month. Testing should be increased, and efforts should be to test anyone coming in contact with a symptomatic patient, without any delay.”
He also demanded that the Kejriwal government should prepare for 50,000 beds and 10,000 ventilators as per Dr Mahesh Verma committee report.
New president of Delhi BJP Adesh Gupta, who had also opposed the Kejriwal government’s decision to reserve beds for local patients, warned the government to pull up its socks. He also opposed the idea of opening schools and the Delhi Metro in the near future.
Meanwhile, trying to mount pressure on the L-G to reconsider his decision to reverse Kejriwal’s plan to reserve hospital beds for Delhiites,. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said Delhi will need 80,000 beds by end of July if the current rate of the spread of infection continues.
After the SDMA meeting, an AAP leader said, “When L-G was asked how he proposes to arrange 80,000 beds for treatment of Delhi residents and also those coming from outside, he said that he has no idea now, but will see what can be done.”
According to Delhi government data and estimate, by June 15, there'll be 44,000 Covid-19 cases and 6,600 beds will be required in Delhi. By June 30, we'll reach one lakh cases and 15,000 beds will be required. By July 15, there'll be 2.25 lakh cases and 33,000 beds will be required. By July 31, 5.5 lakh cases are expected and 80,000 beds will be required," said Sisodia.
"The prediction is based on the trend that when the borders were sealed due to lockdown and in Delhi hospitals, only the residents of the state were coming for the treatments,” said Sisodia, in his attempt, for the second day running, to justify the state government’s decision to reserve Delhi government hospital beds for local residents.
The Delhi government appeared to be speaking in two voices when the health minister hinted at possible community transfer but Sisodia refused to confirm it. "On community spread in Delhi, Central government officials said it has not happened yet and there is no need to discuss this matter," Sisodia said after a meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority which was skipped by CM Kejriwal who had developed fever and cough. A test later confirmed that Kejriwal had not acquired coronavirus.
Political observers say the AAP government is attempting to prepare a ground for blaming the Centre for the worse corona situation in the city in coming days. The bitter difference of opinion between the elected government and the Raj Niwas over the matter came into the open when the L-G’s office issued a clarification explaining Baijal’s decision to reverse the order of Delhi government of reserving beds only for city dwellers. It said the AAP government’s decision was overturned as it violated the constitutional rights of Equality and Right to Life which include Right to Health. A similar directive earlier issued by GNCTD to discriminate in providing healthcare facilities to patients based on their residence was struck down by the Delhi High Court.
All eyes of the international community would soon be on Delhi as the corona situation in the city is heads for disaster. Delhi is likely to see Covid-19 infections rising to 5.5 lakh by the end of July – up from just under 30,000 right now. The situation is likely to get complicated by the fact that there is no official definition of community transmission. In a layman’s language, when the number of corona cases with unknown contact history starts rising, it can be presumed that the trend of community transmission has started. The Union Health Ministry had said a 20-30% reporting of cases with unknown contact history would be deemed community transmission.
Delhi is heading for a catastrophe of sorts with the Arvind Kejriwal government now looking for excuses for not being able to gear up for the explosion in number of coronavirus and L-G refusing to see logic in the CM’s knee-jerk reaction to the uncontrolled spurt in Covid cases.
What is amply clear at the moment is that the blame game in the Capital is only going to intensify in coming days and the deaths due to coronavirus would bring in focus the failure of the decision makers to insulate Delhiites from the pandemic.