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Things were tough in early June, now there is stability’

July 01, 2020 06:34 AM


Things were tough in early June, now there is stability’

Sweta Goswami and Anonna Dutt


Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who also holds temporary charge of the state health ministry, spoke to Sweta Goswami and Anonna Dutt about where Delhi stands in the Covid-19 fight, working with the Centre on formulating strategies, ramping up testing, the positivity rate, community transmission, home isolation, and the state’s finances, among other issues. Edited excerpts:

Do you think Delhi has already seen its Covid-19 peak, or is it yet to come?

Right now, we are in a comfortable situation. If you ask me about the peak, the time between June 8 and June 15, or rather the first two weeks of June, were a bit hard. We have seen stability after that.

Earlier, when we were testing 5,000-6,000 people, about 2,000 were testing positive. Now, we are doing anywhere between 17,000 and 22,000 tests, and 3,000 are testing positive. This means there is stability in the number of cases.

If we look at the number of beds, the peak need was 6,200 beds. Now, it is close to 5,800-5,900—this shows that there is stability in the number of beds needed. Deaths are also under control; not a huge spike.

Considering the character of this virus and what we are seeing across the globe, it will be wrong if I conclude that we will no longer see those jerks or spikes again. This phase, which I am calling a stable one, might be temporary phase, which is why surveillance and surveys, which are currently happening in the city, are very important.

Home minister Amit Shah has said your projection of 550,000 cases in Delhi by the end of July created some panic among people. Your comment.

What I said back then was the ground reality of the time. Now, whether the decision to share the projection of Covid cases with the public was right or wrong is very subjective.

My viewpoint is that by throwing the numbers out in the open, a sense of urgency came in all of us, including the Centre. It is because of that alert that all stakeholders, including the central government, our government, NGOs and municipal corporations, came together. I feel sharing data with the public always proves to be beneficial.

How did the government arrive at these numbers?

These projections were made based on a formula given by the government of India (GoI), which has created a portal for this, and that is what we’re following. The projection of the total number of cases at present is not very different from the projection of 1 lakh cases by June-end that we had made back then. But other numbers are very different now. For example, we had then projected that active cases would be around 60,000 by now, but at present, we have only around 26,000 active cases.

Are there any fresh projections?

No, today also we are doing all arrangements based on the same assessment made in the beginning of June. Our target was to prepare 15,000 beds. We have that today. We also have more than enough beds in quarantine centres. There are more than 8,500 quarantine beds ready, and only over 1,700 of them are currently occupied.

We were expecting that over 15,000 beds would be required, but now only around 5,900 beds are being utilised. In between, bed occupancy had peaked at 6,200 but things have improved since then.

At present, there are some signs of stability with the recovery rate improving and the positivity rate declining. This stability gives us hope, but we cannot be under the illusion that no more preparation is required.

The good thing is that Delhi’s recovery rate is very promising. Today’s recovery rate is 63.3%. This has helped us build confidence among the people in the chief minister’s five weapons to fight Corona.

Testing is being scaled up, and based on that, symptomatic cases are being isolated. More beds than what is required are being set up. The fourth is plasma therapy, which has shown positive results in Delhi. And the last one is survey and screening.

Right now, we have about 744 ventilator beds, and only 160 are vacant. Does that worry you?

I agree that ventilators are the need of the hour, which is why I just took a meeting to review this matter, and we are working to augment it further. The central government has also helped us in this, but we are also procuring machines on our own. Every major Delhi government hospital has also been asked to chalk out a plan on how their capacity can be increased further.

The government’s data shows that a lot of the stability started coming about two weeks ago – around the time the Centre stepped in. Would the Covid situation have been different in Delhi had the Union government not intervened?

I stand by what the chief minister said yesterday – credit sara unka, zaroorat saari humari (credit all theirs, need all ours).

One good thing is that with the Centre’s help, we have got some staff now in our dedicated Covid-19 hospitals. We have got staff from ITBP who are manning the Sardar Patel Covid Care Centre and hospital. At present, they have given staff for 1,000 beds, but I hope they will provide more personnel for all the 10,000 beds when they are utilised. Besides, we have got some oxygen cylinders, ventilators and rail coaches from the Centre.

But this pandemic is so unprecedented that if any government or stakeholder claims that the situation was stabilised solely because of them, it would be too much. The good thing today is that all three – the Central government, the Delhi government and civil society – are working together in good coordination with each other. This is not the time to do post-mortems on who failed or passed.

Difference of opinion is always there, and it is natural. There were some decisions taken by them (Central government and the Lieutenant-Governor), which we opposed in our discussions with them. We even kept our view in the public forum, sought views, and they withdrew those decisions. But, these things keep happening. It is a part of the process.

How are you handling the manpower shortage?

Right now, in our hospitals, we are bypassing all government processes to appoint medical staff on an immediate basis. All our medical directors have been authorised or empowered to create posts and fill them. We have decentralised the system, which has helped a lot. The municipal corporations are doing their bit in conducting surveys.

Is there any confusion around the house-to-house surveys to be conducted across Delhi that led the Union government extending the July 6 deadline?

Yes, MHA has not given us any standard operating procedure (SOP) on how this is to be done. This was recommended by the Centre’s expert committee headed by Dr VK Paul of Niti Aayog. Once we get the SOP, then we will discuss it with them.

The Delhi government got its way on home isolation for mild and asymptomatic patients. Earlier, the government outsourced the follow-up process to a private firm. How is it being done now?

We have issued a tender to rope in a private firm so that the follow-up process of home isolation patients is outsourced like before. In the meantime, we are trying to cope with whatever resources we have. We have put our staff from mohalla clinics and teams of district surveillance officers on the job as of now. But this is not sufficient.

We are again going to outsource the tele-counselling task to a private firm. Which company gets the job will be known once the tender process is over. It will be finalised in a day or two.

The Centre asked the Delhi government to analyse the deaths. What have we found out?

They (Centre) have asked for the data; we provided it. Now, pulse oximeters and oxygen concentrators are also available; this has made home isolation a great solution. So far, more than 52,000 people have recovered.

In the beginning of June, there were some issues – there were times when it took two-three hours for the admission of patients; now it takes a maximum of 10 minutes.

The Centre said in the past that deaths happening in first one to three days of hospital admission implied that home isolation protocols were not being followed strictly.

If a person is eligible for home isolation as per ICMR protocols – we have not set up our own protocols – it is much better if they stay at home rather than going to the Covid centres.

If someone needs hospitalisation, there is zero compromise on our end and from our medical teams. After reaching the hospitals, yes, there were some issues at the beginning. Now, the app is working really well and all the problems have been rectified.

Is there community transmission in Delhi or not, and does that impact the response in any way?

I feel that a lot of things will become clear after the sero surveillance study is done.

Earlier, 20% of the cases were reported from containment areas, 40% from clusters, and almost 40% were isolated cases. Now the clusters have also been included in the containment zones. That’s why the increase in the number of zones.

Actually, when you confirm community transmission, then rather than contact tracing, you focus on facilitating medical care. We are already doing that. But, yes, the resource and manpower that is focused on containment and tracing will no longer be a worry if you accept community transmission.

However, we need to understand that Delhi is not a small city. In the same city, there could be a colony where community transmission could be ongoing but another colony in the same city might be very less affected. You cannot have the same yardstick for both. In a city like Delhi, you will still have to have multiple strategies.

What about the rapid antigen test?

Every day, we are doing up to 20,000 tests. The main benefit is that we have been able to scale up testing. There is a limit to RT-PCR testing. That is why we are purchasing 5 lakh more tests so that we can increase it more.

The positivity rate of RT-PCR was higher as it was restricted to certain people; the positivity rate among the entire population of the containment areas also comes up to about 7% according to current data. Would these people have been missed had we not started rapid testing?

This is the benefit of rapid testing -- you can do it at a large scale. You cannot scale up RT-PCR to that level.

We are moving towards 40,000 tests a day. And, the day we do that, it is possible that 4,000 people will test positive, I am prepared for that.

Now that the Capital has been unlocked, are the state finances looking up?

No. Our collection for the first quarter of last year was ₹7,275 crore. This year it is approximately ₹2,500 crore only. So, our collection has been just one-third compared to last year. And, this is only GST and VAT. Excise, registry, and car sales have also stopped – that data has not been included in this. Total revenue in these categories must be only about 10% of the usual revenue.

Since there is so much cooperation going on, and the Union home minister is also doing such handholding, I hope he will help us in this regard as well.

I had written to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman for ₹5,000 crore, but we are yet to hear from her. If we get this money – and I hope the Centre will give it – along with the GST compensation, then we can manage easily.

Schools are closed till July 31. What is the plan after this?

Let us see. It is very difficult for me to say what the situation will be in July or August. The Government of India also said yesterday that schools will remain closed.

We had assessed this a few days ago and announced our decision. It will take time.


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