Delhi recorded its highest daily Covid death toll of 131 on Wednesday, taking the total to 7,943 deaths. The total number of Covid cases in the capital crossed five lakhs and is presently at 5,03,084. On Wednesday, 7,486 new cases were reported. The pandemic is on a big surge in Delhi, which is now on top of the list of cities hit by Covid in India.
The picture is clear. The Covid virus infection is spreading fast among the people of Delhi, with one lakh cases reported in the last 15 days.
The spurt in Covid cases has affected the health infrastructure in the capital, with hospitals running out of ICU beds. Ninety-two per cent of ICU beds will ventilator support, and 87 per cent ICU beds without ventilator support are full. Relatives of Covid patients are running from one hospital to another in search of ventilators. The public sector undertaking Bharat Electronics is sending 250 ventilators from Bengaluru to Delhi on an emergency basis, but this number seems to be insufficient.
The death rate is very high among people suffering from diabetes and obesity. According to medical experts, this is the third wave of Covid infections in Delhi, with the previous two noticed in June and September. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited LNJP and Guru Tegh Bahadur hospitals to assess the current situation. He has promised an increase of 663 ICU beds in the next few days, with the Centre assuring to provide 750 additional beds.
Indian Railways is converting rail coaches into an 800-bed Covid care-cum-isolation facility at Shakur Basti railway station. Delhi government is going to ramp up mass RT-PCR Covid testing to 60,000 daily by month-end. 45 doctors and 160 paramedics from central paramilitary forces have been flown in for deployment at DRDO hospital near Delhi airport and at the 10,000-bed Covid care centre in Chhatarpur, South Delhi.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, I had been warning since Dussehra festival about huge crowds of shoppers flocking to major Delhi markets, with not an inch of space left to even stand separately. On Wednesday, we again showed visuals of huge crowds at Sarojini Market in south Delhi, even after Diwali festival is over. The situation is similar in other major markets like Chandni Chowk, Gandhi Nagar, Sadar Bazar and Lajpat Nagar. Time has come to strictly enforce Covid norms otherwise the situation may go out of control.
In crematoriums and cemeteries, the scenes are heart-rending. Three more electric crematoriums are coming up at Delhi’s Nigam Bodh Ghat to cope with the influx of bodies of Covid victims. Cemeteries are fast running out of space.
At a time when politicians of all hues should have joined hands to fight the pandemic, we notice politics in full flow over the issue of allowing Chhath Puja at the ghats of Yamuna river. On Wednesday, BJP MP Manoj Tiwari used the word ‘namak haraam’ in his tweet against Arvind Kejriwal. Tiwari was questioning why Kejriwal celebrated Diwali with a crowd of his supporters at Akshardham temple and is now refusing to allow Chhath festival in public. In the same tweet, he asked why Kejriwal govt has allowed round-the-clock bars and restaurants in Delhi.
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court upheld the state government’s ban on public gatherings during Chhath festival, saying any such event “could turn into a super spreader of the infection”. The High Court said, “right to life and health of the public at large cannot be sacrificed at the altar of a right to celebrate a festival.”
It is no secret why the pandemic spread all of a sudden in Delhi. There were huge crowds in markets for several consecutive days, but few people may have seen how people gathered at Diwali parties, shook hands, hugged one another and unintentionally spread the virus. There were family dinners and parties, after which entire families got the virus. The Delhi government was at its wits’ end. How many people could be challaned for not wearing masks, when entire crowds were moving around without a single mask on. Had the markets been locked down, it could have affected business and economy. Thousands of people turned up at railway stations and bus stands to go to their home states to celebrate Chhath Puja. Clearly, the Delhi government could neither anticipate nor control the crowds.
On Wednesday, I spoke to five top doctors from reputed Delhi hospitals. They described the Covid situation in Delhi as “explosive, grave and life-threatening”. The doctors disclosed how they had to phone several hospitals to beg for an ICU bed with a ventilator to save their patients. Some of them revealed how their patients died while waiting for ventilators. Even if the number of ICU beds is increased, doctors and paramedics are required to take care of patients lying on those beds in ICU. There is a shortage of doctors and health care workers too.
When I asked them about the way out of this crisis, the doctors said, it is the same that we have been saying for the last eight months. Wear masks, maintain social distancing and frequently wash your hands after returning home or after touching objects that enter your home from outside.
About the ugly politics that is going on in Delhi over the ban on Chhath Puja, I have this to say. There are 30 to 35 per cent people from Bihar and UP staying in Delhi. Out of 1.4 crore voters, there are 40 lakh voters from UP, Purvanchal and Bihar. Most of the political parties try their best to articulate the grievances of this community. But given the present Covid crisis in Delhi, I feel, political leaders should not insist on public gatherings to celebrate Chhath festival.
Perform Chhath Puja at home. If one can perform Diwali Puja at home, then one can also celebrate Chhath festival and offer prayers to Sun God. It is not wise to drag politics in matters relating to public health and religious faith. This applies not only to Delhi but also to Mumbai, where a large number of people from UP and Bihar celebrate Chhath festival in public.
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