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Low testing and tracing: How Delhi turned into India’s New York City after Covid hit

In episode 501 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta explains how Delhi dropped the ball to become the second-worst Covid hit region in India.

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New Delhi: Despite being a rich city with good infrastructure, the national capital seems to be emerging as India’s New York City with over 59,000 Covid-19 cases so far, ThePrint’s Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta said in episode 501 of #CutTheClutter.

In terms of total Covid-19 cases, Delhi is outnumbered only by Maharashtra – a state that has over six times the population of Delhi.

On Sunday, the national capital overtook Tamil Nadu, which now has 59,377 Covid cases. The state has four times the population of Delhi.

Gupta pointed out that earlier it was thought that the city of Mumbai – which has all the ingredients for becoming the Covid hotspot – would end up experiencing a situation similar to New York City.

“However, it looks like Mumbai is putting up a good fight. Mumbai still has a lot more cases than Delhi, but its test positivity rates is coming down. More importantly, in areas like Dharavi, the numbers are coming down,” he said.

Dharavi, a 2.5-sq. km area that is home to 1 million people, has been registering new cases in single digits for the past few days, he added.

Also read: How ‘overconfident’ Delhi made a mess of Covid fight, forcing Modi govt to pick up the pieces

Why the situation worsened in Delhi

Initially, it looked like Delhi was in good shape. On 4 May, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city was ready to reopen. Delhi had the tests, the hospitals, and the health workers to handle a surge in cases. However, the lockdown was extended by three more weeks until 25 May.

Soon after, Delhi case numbers started going up. Strangely, despite cases going up, the number of tests was static, and then started going down, Gupta said.

ThePrint’s Abantika Ghosh reported that on 27 May, Delhi conducted 6,087 tests. On 31 May, the number of tests was 3,379 and on 7 June, Delhi conducted 3,063 tests. The number of tests increased only last week after the Supreme Court rapped the government for conducting too few tests.

“After Delhi reopened, there was a surge. The capital had 4,500 cases on 31 May. Today, it has about 55,000. In just about three weeks, the number of cases in the city has increased by almost 10 times in Delhi,” Gupta said.

The Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines recommended that asymptomatic contacts of symptomatic cases should be tested, but that was not being done in Delhi. By not testing those without symptoms, Delhi kept on reducing its testing numbers.

Between 31 May and 15 June, people who were not tested, but were positive, were mixing with the population instead of being isolated. This caused the infections in Delhi to shoot up, Gupta said.

Under the directions of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the testing in Delhi has tripled within six days. However, Delhi’s test positivity rate is still over 20 per cent. Out of 17,533 tests (on 20 June), about 3,000 are rapid antigen test.

“Rapid antigen tests can give immediate results. Unlike the RT-PCR test, you would not have to wait for two days. If a person tests positive through the antigen tests, they are treated like a coronavirus patient, However, if they test negative, they need to undergo a RT-PCR test again for confirmation,” Gupta said.

The test is useful in hospital settings or containment zones. Instead of first testing everybody and waiting for two days to get the results, you can quickly give everybody an antigen test and see those who are positive.

Also read: Arvind Kejriwal has run out of excuses over his Covid failures in Delhi

Shortage of hospital, reduced contact tracing

Delhi is also running short of hospital beds. “This is because at some point, Delhi abandoned the idea of testing, tracing, and isolating. Instead, the focus shifted on building infrastructure,” Gupta added.

However, Delhi actually should have been in a better state to handle the public health crisis than other states, he said. Delhi’s ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers – who help test, trace, and isolate and check on people in home isolation – are much higher in number than other states.

In fact, Delhi only needed about 1,174 workers, but has over three times as many (about 3,385). In spite of that, Delhi dropped the ball on tracing and tracking.

“A tweet from Amitabh Kant, CEO at NITI Aayog, that shows you why Bengaluru succeeded and other cities failed. Bengaluru traced 47 contacts for each positive case, Delhi in comparison traced only to point one,” Gupta said.

Another decision by the central government – that was later retracted – said that anybody who tested positive in Delhi, even if they were asymptomatic, will have to go into institutional quarantine.

“Now, if every day you are having over 3,000 people turning positive, there is no way you can find institutional quarantine for them — you have to put them in a home on quarantine,” Gupta said.

“But the fact is that, during home isolation unless you are under strict inspection, you will infect the rest of your family, your workers, your visitors. So that is the ball that Delhi dropped. And that is what Delhi is now paying for,” Gupta said.

The capital city is now catching up with Mumbai in terms of deaths per million. With 108 deaths per million, Delhi has 12 times the mortality rate than the national average.

However, Gupta added that action is now being taken in Delhi to better deal with the crisis – which may turn things around for the national capital.

Watch the latest episode of CTC here:

Also read: How Andhra is firmly testing, treating its way out of Covid crisis, but Telangana struggling


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  1. Other states like Rajasthan, up. Mp , Punjab and kolkatta number of tests are so less compare to delhi, mumbai and Tamil nadu.

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