Delhi fights Covid under shadow of data fudging

Published : Jun 20, 2020 08:58 am | By: anjali chhabra

Delhi fights Covid under shadow of data fudging


The vast discrepancy in the Covid data released by the Delhi government has brought it under the lens for alleged fudging of figures.

The tongue lashing received from the Supreme Court has finally pushed the Delhi government into action with scaled up testing of coronavirus and expansion of medical facilities, including conversion of a 29-acre ashram into a 10,000-bed Covid care facility in south Delhi’s Asola-Bhatti area, to overcome a critical shortage of beds. Also, the discrepancy in Covid data released by the Arvind Kejriwal government has brought it under public scrutiny.

At a time when Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain himself has tested positive for coronavirus, health officials seem to be struggling to maintain authentic data on total infections and tests. Authorities in Delhi have been facing allegations of fudging figures – including suppression of figures on casualties in the state. There are allegations that the Kejriwal government was undercounting its deaths by as much as 242 between May 29 and June 11. These allegations were based on fears about the dead not being declared as Covid infected.

While seeking an explanation on the fall in coronavirus testing in the city, the apex court had come down heavily on the Arvind Kejriwal government over the city’s weak war against the pandemic and observed that the situation was "horrendous, horrific and pathetic". "While a large number of beds are vacant, people are running from pillar to post to get admission. According to some reports, a government hospital in Delhi had bodies in lobby and waiting area. Inside the ward, most beds were unoccupied," the court had said.

The Delhi’s 50,000 Covid tally, which involves over 27,000 active cases, has been rising ominously, with nearly 3,000 fresh cases daily. The spike in the positivity rate – which represents the average number of samples testing positive for coronavirus – from 7% on May 17 to 31.3% on June 17, also is a chilling reminder of the fact that the pandemic is spreading fast in the capital. At present, 25,000 city residents who have tested positive for Covid are in home isolation but the government is expecting a sharp uptick in the number of positive cases in the coming days from low-income zones where home isolation may not be possible. This is the reason why mega Covid centres are being established, including the 10,000-beded Radha Soami Satsang Beas ashram in south Delhi. The Satsang facility will be available by first week of July and the total number of beds available in the city is likely to go up to 30,000 by July 15,     

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also said that the cost of testing in the city-state has been capped at Rs 2,400. "Rapid antigen testing has started in Delhi that gives the result in 15 minutes. I hope people in the city will no longer face any hassle in getting tested," he tweeted.

On the first day of antigen testing 7,040 people were checked and 456 people were found positive. The daily sample testing figure in the city has also risen from 5,500 to 8,000 gradually after the apex court pulled up the AAP government. The city is now testing 15,367 samples per million population, an average that has started to rise ever since the top court expressed its anger over the Delhi government’s facilities.

To bring relief to harassed Delhi residents, a committee set up by Union Home Minister Amit Shah has recommended putting a cap on charges that private hospitals can collect from patients for isolation beds and treatment at the intensive care units.

"To provide relief to the common man in Delhi, HM @AmitShah constituted a committee under Member of @NITIAayog to fix rates charged by Pvt hospitals in Delhi for isolation beds, ICUs without ventilator support & ICUs with ventilator support (sic)," the Union Home Ministry tweeted.  

"Committee has recommended Rs 8,000-10,000, 13,000-15, 000 & 15,000-18,000 including PPE costs for isolation bed, ICUs without & with ventilator respectively to all hospitals as compared to the current charges of Rs 24,000-25,000, 34,000-43,000 & 44,000-54,000 (excluding PPE cost) @HMOIndia," it said in another tweet.  

At present, the city has 40 testing labs, combined capacity of private and public sector, and antigen detection tests have commenced at about 169 locations with 341 teams. ICMR has already conducted training for the concerned health professionals. The medical teams at the centres will ensure that all Covid positive cases are followed up for treatment as per the guidelines and protocol issued by the ICMR, an official said.

To counter social stigma linked to coronavirus, a format has been approved by the city government for hospitals to issue to patients who have recovered from infection.  Also a format to be issued to the persons tested for antigen detection tests at various centres was also approved, subject to clearance from AIIMS & ICMR.

In Delhi’s fight against coronavirus, over 1,700 people have been booked by police for venturing out of their houses without masks, after the restrictions were lifted on June 8. Another, 1,000 people have been penalised for violations related to not observing norms related to social distancing. In a related development, the civic agencies in the city have decided to impose a fine of Rs 1,000 on those who consume pan, gutka or tobacco at a public place. The step has been taken to prevent spitting in public places that may pose a threat of spreading Covid. Officials said in cases where the violator fails to give money to pay the penalty on the spot, the information is passed on to Delhi Police who take suitable action. So far, 23 people have been caught spitting on roads and in each of these cases the police made the violators clean the road. Nearly, 95% of spitting violators were chewing tobacco.

As India seems set to touch the mark of 4,00,000 infections, there is a slight fall in growth rate of infections but the total number has continued to swell. Within the next 20 days, India is expected to overtake Russia to be the world’s 3rd-highest in terms of the number of infections. The daily number of fresh infections in India is already the third highest (14,000). The US is adding 27,000 new infections every day while Brazil is reporting 23,000 fresh cases every day.

According to Delhi government data and estimate, by June 30 the city will 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. Nearly 40% of Delhi’s Covid infections have been recorded in the first 10 days of June.

A shroud of mystery has also surrounded the official figure on the number of Covid deaths with the AAP-led Delhi government’s figure of about 1,085 being virtually repudiated by the BJP-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), claiming that 2,098 bodies of Covid-19 patients have been cremated by various crematoriums run by it.

Shortage of beds, ventilators or frontline warriors would start reflecting once the AAP government corrects its daily corona infection and death count. The situation is unlikely to improve till both the AAP government and the BJP-led Central government sink their differences and work in tandem.