Startled into action by the tremendous rise in COVID-19 cases in the national capital, the Delhi government has in the space of a week, taken a flurry of actions to curb the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, 19 November, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that a fine of Rs 2,000 will be imposed on anyone who is found not wearing a mask in public, soon after he held an all-party meeting to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the capital.
Among other recent decisions taken by the Delhi government are cutting down the limit on guests at weddings and a proposal to impose lockdown in market areas which are emerging as COVID-19 hotspots.
A continuous spike in the capital’s daily cases since October, coupled with the CM’s announcements this week have triggered fears about the possibility of another lockdown. But is this fear well-founded? Here’s what we know.
Has there been any official mention or announcement of a lockdown in Delhi?
No, neither CM Kejriwal, nor any other Delhi minister has mentioned the possibility of Delhi going into another lockdown over the COVID-19 situation.
Earlier in November, the Delhi government admitted that the capital was in the grip of a third wave, but later said that they expected an improvement in the situation in the next seven to 10 days. CM Kejriwal had said that pollution is the reason behind the sudden spike and that they would take several steps soon.
So what were those steps? Was lockdown mentioned?
Again, no Delhi-wide lockdown has been mentioned.
Addressing a press conference on 17 November, Kejriwal said that his government had sent a proposal to Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal to allow only 50 people to attend wedding functions against the earlier limit of 200. This proposal was accepted by Baijal on Wednesday.
At the same press briefing, Kejriwal said that they are sending a proposal to the Centre to give power to the Delhi government to impose lockdown in market areas, which may emerge as COVID-19 hotspots. But he spoke only of markets and not the entire region, since COVID-19 rules such as wearing masks and social distancing have been widely flouted at markets amid the recent festivities.
Further, on 19 November, CM Kejriwal said that a fine of Rs 2,000 will be imposed on anyone who is found not wearing a mask in public. Earlier in the day, he had also held an all-party meeting to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the national capital.
What have Delhi ministers been saying about the possibility of a lockdown?
Again, they have outright dismissed the possibility of another lockdown.
Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain 16 November, said that there will be no reimposition of lockdown in the national capital, adding that the third wave has passed its peak.
“There will be no reimposition of lockdown in Delhi. I don’t think it will be an effective step now. Wearing of masks by everyone will be more beneficial... The third wave of COVID-19 has passed its peak in Delhi,” Jain was quoted as saying.
Further, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has repeatedly said this week that the government has no plan to impose a lockdown, but mentioned the possibility of restrictions in some market areas for some days to curb the spread.
“We have no intention of a lockdown. Let me clarify, we have made a general proposal to the Centre with regard to certain regulations like shutdown for some days in the markets where COVID-19-appropriate behaviour and social distancing violations pose threat of rapid infection,” Sisodia said, according to NDTV.
He, too, reiterated that lockdown is not an appropriate solution to the pandemic, adding that it would be tackled through medical arrangements.
So, has the Delhi government been making these medical arrangements?
Yes, this has been happening.
“We are trying to increase the number of ICU beds on a war footing,” Kejriwal said on Thursday, after a visit to Deen Dayal Hospital, which he said will increase the present number of ICU beds dedicated for COVID-19 from 50 to 100.
The Delhi government has also ordered 90 private hospitals to reserve 60 percent of their total bed capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, which will increase 2,644 beds in private hospitals for treatment of COVID.
On Wednesday, Kejriwal had visited Delhi’s GTB Hospital to assess the preparedness of healthcare facilities and said, “Over the next few days, the Delhi government will increase 663 ICU beds in its state-run hospitals; from Friday, 238 extra beds would be added in the GTB hospital. The Central government has assured it would ready 750 ICU beds in the DRDO Hospital.”
Meanwhile, worried by the unabated spike in the past few weeks, Home Minister Amit Shah chaired a high-level meeting with Kejriwal on 15 November to discuss the COVID situation. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kejriwal said that the Centre has assured that 750 ICU beds will be made available at the DRDO centre and daily testing will go up to 1 lakh. According to Kejriwal, Delhi would now have an additional 1,413 beds in intensive care units across the city.
So does this mean there isn’t a cause for worry? Is everything under control?
No, while there may not be a lockdown, the situation is certainly concerning in Delhi, which has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases since the end of the October. Amid the third COVID-19 wave, Delhi saw a record spike of over 8,000 cases last week. The death toll has also been consistently high.
The cases in the capital had reached an all-time high of 8,593 on 11 November. Since then, fewer cases have reported over the next few days, but on some days, the number of tests conducted was far lesser than the usual.
All is not well, and the Delhi High Court reminded the Delhi government of its responsibility on Thursday while delivering a rap on the knuckles. “Why wait till now to reduce number of attendees at weddings? Why did you wait for 18 days to restrict number of attendees at weddings, how many died of COVID-19 during this period?” the court said.
“You were shaken out of slumber, you turned turtle after we asked questions,” the high court told the government on the fresh measures taken to tackle COVID-19.
Okay, but should there be a lockdown in such a scenario? What do experts think?
Experts differ on whether a lockdown will help the situation or not.
“I strongly feel the situation will worsen,” Anoop Misra, chairman of Fortis-C-DOC Hospital that specialises in diabetes, metabolic diseases and endocrinology told Economic Times. “A seven-day partial lockdown (shutting down metros and bus services) may help,” he reportedly said.
However, Giridhar R Babu, a member of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s national task force on COVID-19 feels differently. “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,” he told Economic Times.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Quint, Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and CEO, Welcome Trust, DBT India Alliance, said that he feels that there could be a need for locality or cluster specific lockdown, but not a city-wide lockdown. He, too, reiterated the need for masks and appropriate distancing, calling the flouting of COVID-19 rules at market places amid the festivities “atrocious”, pointing out that with hospital beds already full, and that this should not have been allowed to happen.
“The message needs to go out that this is a very serious public health emergency and people need to be very very careful and that they should move out only if absolutely necessary,” Dr Jameel said.