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Building capacity critical: In many cities, like Delhi, jumbo facilities need restarting

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covid-19covid-19Delhi is seeing new highs when it comes to Covid cases.

While a lockdown in Maharashtra increasingly looks a certainty, one in Delhi cannot be ruled out either. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has said that he is not in favour of a lockdown but if the city’s hospital infrastructure collapses, he will have no option but to shut down the city. Indeed, with cases rising to 13,500 in the capital on Monday, the city has just 249 ICU beds that have ventilators compared to 376 even a week ago and just 66 of these are in private hospitals. There is, of course, little doubt that, like other parts of the country, Delhi is seeing new highs when it comes to Covid cases.

But keep in mind that the daily average of new cases in the capital was around 7,300 in the second week of November and rose to 8,600 on November 12; while the current peak is definitely higher, it is not several times higher than what was experienced earlier. When cases were peaking last year, along with the Centre, Delhi set up jumbo facilities in, for instance, the Radha Saomi Satsang Beas’s premises in Chhatarpur; the Railways also decided to convert coaches into isolation centres and kept 500—of the total of 5,000 across the country—of them in the Anand Vihar railway station.

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As the cases reduced, many of these jumbo facilities were wound up. Sadly, though the cases had started rising again about a month ago, the same build-up of hospital/isolation capacity as the last time around didn’t take place. Apart from the strained relations between the Centre and the AAP government, the fact that the top central leaders have also been campaigning—and strategising—for various state elections would also have been a factor in the sluggish response.

Nor it is just Delhi. As the health ministry letter to various state governments, there are huge capacity constraints elsewhere as well. There are no ICU beds or even isolation beds with oxygen support in Ahmednagar and Nandurbar (there are no spare ventilators here either) in Maharashtra. Eight of 10 districts in Chhattisgarh have no ICU beds available and two have no ventilators either.

Both the Centre and the states need to work out, together, how to address these issues since, apart from the lack of funds, states may require other type of help as well, like getting the armed forces to set up field hospitals. Equally problematic, the presence of new and more infective strains aside, the political class has shown no hesitation in organising rallies for lakhs of persons or endorsing festivals like the Kumbh where most participants do not wear masks (even if they do, they are packed so close to one another). This makes a mockery of the Covid-appropriate behaviour that politicians expect the citizenry to observe. While the country is observing Tika Utsav, to try and get as many 45+ year olds to get vaccinated, the teeming crowds at election rallies and the Kumbh and other festivals like Baisakhi make it appear that was is being celebrated is Covid Utsav.

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