HTLS 2020: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal hopes 3rd wave may recede if trend holds

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday expressed hope that, based on positive signs over the last four-five days, the national Capital was crossing the third peak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), with the positivity rate of tests and the number of infections consistently declining during this period.

The cases in Delhi have surged in their third and the deadliest wave so far, with the positivity rate (the number of those infected as a percentage of those tested) spiking to 15%. The Delhi government recently sought tighter curbs on weddings in city and asked the Union government for approval to lock down market places if they were turning into hot spots.

“It appears that there are some good signs in the last 4-5 days. On November 15, the positivity rate was 15%. On November 17, this reduced to 13%. Today, it is 10.5%. In the last five days, the positivity rate reduced by 5 percentage points… It appears that the cases are reducing. We are keeping our fingers crossed. I hope that if this trend continues, then maybe we – the people of Delhi and those from the central government and all organisations – I think we are crossing the third peak,” Kejriwal said at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

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The Delhi chief minister said that even after 8,593 daily cases recently, the Capital’s health care infrastructure did not collapse under the surge of infections, something that was noticed in several metropolises across the world, including New York City. “A total of 7,500 beds are vacant, and 450 ICU beds are vacant right now,” he said, praising the efforts of health care workers. “We will add 1,000-1,500 ICU beds in the next 1-2 days,” he added.

Referring to the intensity of the third wave, the Delhi CM said that experts indicated the disease pattern was aggravated because of increased air pollution. He said the fundamentals of the “Delhi model” that his government devised to fight the pandemic a while back — testing, home isolation, public data, hospital beds, and plasma therapy — remained strong even today, and the current situation did not go out of control because of the robustness of this strategy.

On Friday, the national capital recorded 6,608 fresh Covid-19 cases, taking the infection tally to 517,238 , while 118 deaths in a day pushed the death toll to 8,159.

Kejriwal also said that his government was in the process of creating a health information management system that will integrate and track hospitals and other such facilities across the Capital. “All Delhi government hospitals, mohalla clinics, poly clinics… all will be connected with each other. At the click of a button, you will know on the cloud… what all is available at which hospital. All citizens will be given e-cards and their medical history will be available on the cloud… I hope we will be able to implement it in a year.”

The CM added that the system will begin only with Delhi government hospitals but the plan is to expand it. “It is a modular structure in which extra things can be plugged in subsequently. In one year, we will try to bring Delhi government hospitals on this. I would like private and central government hospitals to come on board subsequently. The entire health infrastructure of Delhi should be on this platform finally, but in Phase 1, it is going to be only Delhi government infrastructure.”

He said that under the system, when a patient visits a health facility for the first time, their history will be fed in. The details will then keep getting updated with each visit. The CM added that the system, planned for two years, was brought into urgent focus because of the pandemic and the tendering process for it had been completed.

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The Delhi CM said that when the pandemic began early this year, several factors were beyond Delhi’s control, leading to the ballooning of Covid-19 cases. “We found out about the coronavirus in February and March… Indians wanted to return from countries ravaged by the disease at that point. By March 22, about 32,000 people returned and spread across Delhi. We asked DCs to identify them and isolate them but it wasn’t practically possible. Delhi didn’t start from zero, we started with several thousands.”

When asked which aspect of the disease was the most challenging to tackle, he said the “rate of the spread of the infection”. “It spreads so fast. If you are not on your toes 24 hours a day, then your structure collapses.”

He said the Delhi government’s decision to begin home isolation for mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases was a game-changer. “If all patients come to the hospitals, then we can’t manage. Without home isolation, there would have been no beds for serious patients,” he said.

Kejriwal also said that the decision to implement a nationwide lockdown in March was a good move as it gave governments time to build infrastructure and acquire equipment. On the question of whether a lockdown could return in the Capital, he said: “A lockdown doesn’t end corona; it delays the infections. The day the lockdown ends, cases will rise.” He added that governments should clamp lockdowns only when facilities are overrun with infections, emphasising that it was essential to keep up economic activity even while fighting the pandemic.

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He defended the Covid-19 testing record of Delhi, saying that the government responded to the worsening situation swiftly. “August 16, when cases started rising [in the second wave], within a week we increased the number of tests. Even now, as the cases started growing, we started testing more.”

Kejriwal said that the accuracy of rapid antigen tests was doubtful, but RT-PCR tests took much longer to return results. “Ideally, all tests should be RT-PCR,” he said. But the CM said the turnaround time in these tests was two days on average.

The Centre recently announced that it will double the testing capacity in Delhi to 100,000-120,000 with a focus on increasing RT-PCR tests, deploy mobile testing labs and ramp up ICU beds.

Kejriwal also said that the entire world was desperately waiting for a vaccine. “For vaccine delivery in India, the entire distribution plan will be made by the central government. But if they ask us for suggestions, there shouldn’t be ‘VIP and non-VIP’ culture…”

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