As Delhi witnesses the latest third wave of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, it is essential not to lose sight of the bigger picture, that is, to stick to a smart testing and tracing strategy. Delhi is not alone in this battle, and it was pretty evident that the relaxation of lockdown rules and the ongoing festive season would lead to a fresh spike in cases.
Contact tracing and testing have been the fulcrum of the Arvind Kejriwal government’s strategy to curb the spread of the virus, and it has been largely successful. But the efforts are lost when people refuse to follow social distancing norms and practise safe hygiene guidelines. Testing and tracing strategy are what the government can do at a higher level, but it is also the responsibility of the people to follow the guidelines.
Now Delhi must work even harder to keep the virus in check until a vaccine is available.
Testing to recovery
Typically, there are four stages of disaster recovery – mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. While in a pandemic situation, where the infection shows no sign of ebbing its spread, there might be an overlap in some of these stages. So, it is safe to say that Delhi is in the response stage, inching closer to recovery. As a result of the initial mitigation and preparedness strategy, Delhi has done reasonably well to come out of the first and second waves, compared to other cities.
Delhi’s strategy of home isolation has greatly helped in reducing the burden on hospitals, and at the same time, helped reduce the stigma around the virus. As of June, those recuperating in home isolation constituted almost 80 per cent of all Covid-19 positive cases. This needs to be replicated again, as the city suffers from the latest and the deadliest wave of the virus yet.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has directly engaged with the people, by explaining the home isolation policy and why plasma should be donated by recovered Covid-19 patients. Proper communication has helped in reducing the chances of disinformation and fearmongering. Delhi was the first city to establish plasma banks, and initiate trials of convalescent plasma therapy. Delhi went a step ahead of testing and tracing and included treating in its strategy, which is why its recovery rate is one of the highest in India at 89.9 per cent.
Targeted testing is key
The city faces a unique challenge in its fight against Covid-19 — its porous borders. It is part of the NCR region, and as such, testing and tracing policy is not just dependent on the Delhi government, but also on cities forming a part of the NCR from different states, namely Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. A successful testing and tracing strategy in the NCR needs coordinated planning and implementation. Delhi has done well to involve all stakeholders in the fight against Covid-19, from the Narendra Modi government to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), resident welfare associations (RWAs), and mohalla clinics. The Kejriwal government recognises that this battle cannot be fought alone, and that Delhi needs a coordinated strategy.
During this unlock period, Delhi has streamed off course in its contact tracing and testing commitments, even though the testing numbers are high. Delhi needs to bolster its response by focusing on quality testing and bringing back contact-tracing practices. It has ramped up testing again, touching daily figures of more than 60,000, and, amid the surge in Covid cases, the Centre plans to double testing to 1-1.2 lakh per day. There is ample RT-PCR testing capacity lying unused across India that can be used to further increase capacity if needed. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, “Delhi continues to have a highly skewed RAT to RT-PCR ratio – 77% of the tests are RAT based while RT-PCR comprises only 23% of the total tests.”. If Delhi wants to tackle the surge in Covid-19 cases now, it needs to ramp up RT-PCR testing.
The Delhi government has also started ‘targeted testing’ in markets and highly crowded areas, with RT-PCR, keeping in mind the festive rush. Mobile testing vans and health teams will visit marketplaces and vulnerable areas to screen people for Covid-19. Targeted testing accounts for 25-30 per cent of new Covid-cases detected daily. Targeted testing, and not just more testing, will improve health resource utilisation and result in better tactics to control the pandemic. The Delhi government has taken steps to instill behavioral change in the public to control the spread of the virus, such as public education campaign about Covid-19, safety, and social distancing messaging, along with safe hygiene habits. Mask wearing should be strictly implemented and people should not lower their guard against the virus in the festive season. Access to reliable case numbers and positivity rate data will be beneficial to both the government and healthcare institutions for better future planning, and to keep the public informed, aware, and prudent in this time of crisis.
The author is an MP from the Aam Aadmi Party. Views are personal.
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