Union home minister Amit Shah held two separate meetings with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Anil Baijal on Sunday, announcing a series of steps, including aggressive testing and the formation of two committees, aimed at augmenting health care infrastructure , possibly capping treatment costs in private hospitals, and effective containment of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the national capital.
Shah, who will hold an all-party meeting on Monday for further assessment of the pandemic situation in the Capital, also announced a comprehensive door-to-door survey in containment zones for contact tracing and promised the city 500 railway coaches having a capacity of 8,000 beds to treat Covid-19 patients to mitigate any possible shortage of beds.
The meetings come amidst a wave of cases in the Capital. Delhi recorded 2,224 cases on Sunday, the third consecutive day it has seen more than 2,000 new infections. It ended Sunday with 41,182 infections (24,032 of them active) and 1,327 deaths. From Monday (June 8) to Sunday, the city has registered 12,246 cases. In the previous week (June 1-7), it recorded 9,092 cases. The number of containment zones in the city, meanwhile, rose from 147 on June 1 to 219 on Sunday.
“To prevent the coronavirus infection in Delhi, testing will be doubled in the next two days, and after six days the testing will be increased to three times…Also, after a few days, testing will be started at every polling station in the containment zones,” Shah said in a series of tweets in Hindi after the first meeting. It was also attended by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, officials of the home and health ministries and the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.
According to the Delhi government’s recent submission in the high court, the combined daily testing capacity of 40 labs — 17 public and 23 private — is 8,600 per day. However, from June 8-13 the city conducted just 5,525 tests per day. Delhi’s per million testing figure stands at 14,666, more than three times the national average of 4,245. An HT report published on June 6 said the regions where testing is significantly higher than the national average — such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu — are also the ones with significantly higher infections and deaths, especially when populations are factored in.
Shah also asked private hospitals to earmark 60% of beds allotted for Covid-19 patients at a cheaper rate, a move that came against the backdrop of allegations that such health facilities were charging patients exorbitant fees. A key decision taken on Sunday was the formation of a committee under the chairmanship of Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul. It will give its report on Monday on ensuring reservation of the 60% beds and fix rates of testing and treatment.
Based on decisions taken at the meeting , the Union ministry of health announced in the evening that it has set up three teams of four doctors each to inspect all major dedicated Covid-19 facilities in the state and suggest improvements. And All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) announced the creation of a 24×7 helpline in Hindi and English (9115444155), using which callers can avail out-patient appointments or talk to volunteers. The helpline is also open to doctors who will be connected to consultants.
A focal point of Delhi’s Covid-19 strategy has been health care infrastructure. With Kejriwal fearing that the state might need 150,000 beds by the end of July, his government has zeroed in on 77 banquet halls and 40 hotels to add nearly 16,000 beds to the existing capacity of 9,698 beds across government and private hospitals in the city. Another side of the debate that has come to the fore is the quality of health services. Two days ago, the Supreme Court termed the condition of Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital as “pathetic” and its wards as “deplorable”, though the government said it was trying its best to provide quality services.
Amidst a flurry of activities on Sunday, the Centre also transferred four senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers — Awanish Kumar and Monica Priyadarshini from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Gaurav Singh Rajawat and Vikram Singh Mallik from Arunachal Pradesh — to help the city-state manage the Covid-19 situation. The government also directed the attachment of two senior IAS officers – SCL Das and SS Yadav — from the Centre to Delhi.
After the morning meeting, Shah announced that the Centre promised to provide the Delhi government with necessary resources such as oxygen cylinders, ventilators and pulse oximeters, among others. He also said the Centre will issue fresh guidelines on the last rites for Covid-19 victims with an aim to reduce the waiting time for cremations. Later in the day, the health ministry followed up and said bodies of all those suspected to have died of Covid-19 would be “handed over to relatives immediately” without waiting for confirmation. The bodies would be “disposed with precautions,” it added.
For efficient monitoring in containment zones, every individual will be asked to download the Aarogya Setu app, Shah said.
People familiar with the developments said Kejriwal agreed to all steps proposed by Shah during the one-and-a-half-hour meeting in the morning. “Extremely productive meeting between Delhi government and Central government. Many key decisions taken. We will fight corona together,” Kejriwal tweeted after the meeting.
An Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government spokesperson said: “The meeting between the central government and Delhi government was very productive. All issues related to Delhi’s fight against Covid-19 were discussed in detail and key decisions were jointly taken. The central government and the Delhi government agreed on an immediate action plan to increase capacity of beds, increase testing and other important initiatives. This pandemic is among the worst to have happened in the history of mankind and it is imperative for all of us to come together to fight this pandemic.”
In the second meeting in the afternoon, the mayors of Delhi’s three municipal corporations were present alongside Shah, Kejriwal, Vardhan, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria.
“We have to turn the country and the national capital Corona free, healthy and prosperous at the earliest under the leadership of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Shah said, according to a press statement by the Centre. “This will be possible with the cooperation and coordination of all concerned,” he added. Shah also asked the Delhi government and all concerned departments to ensure proper implementation of the decisions.
At the meeting, the three civic bodies offered to give their community centres, hospitals and schools to the Delhi government for use. “We have extended full support and cooperation to the Delhi government in fight this pandemic. There are other hospitals and our staff is working hard to provide best possible care,” North corporation mayor Avtar Singh said. The three civic bodies are governed by the BJP.
In a related development, a statement from the home minister’s office said Shah called an all-party meeting to review the Covid-19 health crisis in the national capital. The meeting will take place at North Block at 11am on Monday. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the AAP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have been asked to be present alongside top state and central officials.
When asked about the all-party meeting, Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta said he will raise issues related to Covid-19 testing. “There is a need to increase testing to contain the disease. We also need to upgrade our facility so that people can be under medical supervision,” he said.
Commenting on the decisions taken on Sunday, Dr Jugal Kishore, head, community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital, said door-to-door survey was the most effective way of identifying cases early. “However, people going door-to-door need to be adequately trained in interacting with common people as community participation is a must during outbreak situations for effective implementation of containment strategies. Half the battle is won if you win the faith of people,” he said.
(with inputs from Risha Chitlangia in Delhi)