New Delhi: The Delhi Metro is being geared up to resume operations from 7 September, when the central government’s ‘Unlock 4.0’ kicks in, but a record number of Covid cases in the past week remains a troubling matter in the national capital.
ThePrint had reported that despite a month-long downward trend in July, Delhi saw a surge of cases in August. It registered a 50-day high of 2,024 cases Sunday, just a day after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal welcomed the move to restart Metro operations.
The Delhi Metro, which has been shut since 22 March, ferries over 25 lakh people every day and the recent uptick in cases has raised concerns over its resumption.
However, experts and doctors ThePrint spoke to, say a second peak like the months of May and June is unlikely despite Metro operations resuming as the pandemic has ‘matured’. They noted that it is important for economic activities to restart and the healthcare system in Delhi is prepared to deal with a surge if it occurs.
“In Delhi, the pandemic has progressed and matured. A lockdown strategy is not feasible as we need to balance economic activities with testing. And Delhi is already testing in high numbers, which also explains the surge in cases. But what’s encouraging is the declining positivity rate,” said Dr Preeti Kumar, vice president for health systems support at the Public Health Foundation of India.
Doctors have also highlighted that the nature of the surge this time is different from earlier cases.
According to Dr B.L. Sherwal, director at the Delhi government’s Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, “While there has been a surge in cases as well as hospitalisations recently, they are mild cases. Cases with co-morbidities are also lesser than before.”
“With the Metro reopening, we are expecting a surge but the Delhi government and the central government have worked hard and we are ready for the challenge,” Sherwal told ThePrint
As of 1 September, Delhi has recorded a total of 1,77,060 cases with 4,462 deaths.
Also read: West Bengal Covid transmission rate dips to below 1, Delhi’s positivity increases to 8.64%
Masking, social distancing & hand hygiene still crucial
According to virologist Dr T. Jacob John, the government’s earlier “ill-planned” lockdown has made it important to resume economic activities. However, he added that while this will lead to an increase in cases, the daily case mark is unlikely to cross 3,000.
“We have a financial epidemic along with the coronavirus epidemic. Cases will increase with Metro opening but unlikely that we will see a peak like June. Even if we see a peak in September, it will be a small one but not like June when cases were above 3,000,” John told ThePrint.
However, not all doctors agree with the assessment. Dr Ritu Saxena, the chief medical officer at Delhi’s nodal Covid facility Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, noted that while the healthcare system is sufficiently equipped, this is not the right time to restart Metro services.
“We are already seeing a rise in cases. Admissions are more now than in July. While we have over 1,000 beds empty, it will be better to restart the Metro after a month when cases go down,” said Saxena.
All experts, however, agree that it is important to focus on masking and hand hygiene to ensure that cases don’t spiral out of control due to the Metro.
“If people wear masks, then all kinds of patients whether asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic or symptomatic, the spread is curbed to a large extent. Focus should be on non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks rather than curbing movement,” said Kumar.
Sherwal added that the rise in cases is also partly due to people’s complacency and failure to take precautions.
“If people don’t take precautions and go out without masks, cases will increase. Now the second sero survey shows we have infections in areas where there weren’t any before. With masks, social distancing and maintaining proper hand hygiene cases will go down again,” he said.
The second serological survey, which was conducted in early August, revealed that around 28.3 per cent of Delhi’s population had been exposed to Covid-19, which was nearly 5 percentage points above the exposure detected in the previous serological survey, conducted between June end and early July.
The survey also revealed that there are a large number of asymptomatic patients in the national capital, making social distancing protocols and masking even more important.
“One-third of Delhi’s population has already been infected. The cases that we are getting now are mostly asymptomatic. We cannot keep everyone in their homes forever. If the prevention method had worked, India wouldn’t have reached 37 lakh cases. People in Delhi need to stop being complacent but normalcy must be restored and life must go on,” Dr Sanjay Rai, professor, community medicine at AIIMS told ThePrint.
Also read: Delhi govt is aggressively testing, aim is to leave no case untraced, says Satyendar Jain
Worrying rise in daily cases
In the last week of August, Delhi’s rise in daily cases has steadily increased, crossing the 2,000-mark on 30 August. It went from 1,061 on 24 August to 2,024 on 30 August.
In this period, Delhi recorded 1,061 (24 August), 1,544 (25 August), 1,693 (26 August), 1,840 (27 August), 1,808 (28 August), 1,954 (29 August), 2,024 (30 August) cases.
Data showed that cases had also doubled in the past month, rising from 1,093 cases daily on 30 July to 2,024 cases on 30 August.
On 31 August, the Delhi High Court took note of the rising cases and asked the government to strategise testing.
“You (Delhi government) thought you had slayed the dragon (Covid-19). However, this dragon has several heads, which is making life miserable for people. Cases are rising in the city every day,” the court said.
The HC’s remarks came just a week after Kejriwal chaired a high-level meeting (on 26 August) to discuss the uptick in cases and said that the overall situation in Delhi was under control.
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