New Delhi: Although the number of daily deaths due to COVID-19 dipped below the 100 mark for the first time in over a week, the situation remains grim in the national capital. For example, in this period, the city also reported 7,546 new cases.
In addition, a major mismatch has erupted between the number of deaths due to COVID-19 and the number of funerals conducted in the city according to protocols for victims of the disease. The municipal corporation has said over 10,300 such funerals were performed until November 23 – while the official death toll was around 8,500.
The novel coronavirus’s spread has been rapid in the past fortnight. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had previously described surge as the city’s ‘third wave’ of the local epidemic.
According to news reports on Thursday, Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai has also contracted COVID-19.
Schools to stay shut
Also on Thursday, Delhi completed a door-to-door survey, during which city workers tested 57.3 lakh people in the city for COVID-19. This is nearly a fourth of Delhi’s population, most of them currently residing in over 4,500 containment zones and hotspots.
The workers numbered over 9,000; they worked in three-member teams over five days.
A little over 18,300 of them with tested with RT-PCR kits, of which 6.4% tested positive. In all, the workers reported 13,516 people to have symptoms of COVID-19. The workers also traced some 8,400 contacts of these people.
Following the survey, the Delhi government claimed the positivity rate in Delhi to be “declining”. According to Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain, the rate was 8.5% over the last three weeks and over 15% on November 7.
While the fatality rate reflects the prevalence of disease, it’s typically not used as a measure of the disease’s spread. Instead, it’s more suitable as a measure of whether the authorities are conducted enough tests in a given population.
While Jain maintained that Delhi had the “least fatality per million” population among India’s four major metropolitan centres (including Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata), he admitted the situation was still serious.
He declared that “no schools will reopen” until the Delhi government could be certain that the situation was under control. However, he didn’t elaborate on what ‘under control’ denoted.
Incidentally, the National Centre for Disease Control had cautioned that Delhi should brace for about 15,000 new cases per day ahead of the upcoming winter season and its attendant respiratory issues, large influx of patients from outside the city and festivals.
111 deaths per day
The seriousness is borne out by the number of people who have become very ill, read together with the number of people who have died due to COVID-19.
The last week in particular has been concerning, with 777 deaths having been reported over seven days from November 19. A little under 100 people died on November 19; 118 died on November 20; 111 on November 21; 121 each on November 22 and 23; 109 on November 24 and 99 on November 25. The most deaths recorded on a single day was November 18 – of 131 people.
Thus far, Delhi has officially reported 8,720 deaths and nearly 5.5 lakh COVID-19 cases. Experts as well as the Delhi government have attributed this state of affairs to a variety of reasons, including unfavourable weather, rising air pollution and a shortage of ICU beds. It must be noted Delhi itself shares much of the blame on the last two counts.
The Delhi high court noted this as well, when on Thursday it expressed its concerns when hearing a petition filed by the Association of Healthcare Providers. The petition challenges the Delhi government’s decision to reserve 80% of ICU beds in 33 private hospitals for COVID-19 patients.
The court wasn’t sympathetic. “The numbers are presently in alarming state,” Justice Navin Chawla said. “The matter should be heard after two weeks looking at the present situation.”
On September 22, the high court had stayed a government order to reserve these beds – only for a division bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad to vacate the stay on November 12 in view of the ground situation. The bench also posted the matter for hearing before a single bench.
The Centre recently promised to install 750 more beds at the DRDO COVID facility in Delhi. However, in a recent letter, Kejriwal urged it to consider providing 1,000.
As it scrambles to find more hospital beds, and thus reduce the potential number of deaths, Kejriwal’s government has also been fighting the city’s fatality count on another front. As things stand, there’s a difference of some 1,500 deaths between the number of funerals conducted according to COVID-19 protocols and the number of people the government has reported as having died of COVID-19.
East Delhi mayor Nirmal Jain recently claimed the number of COVID-19 deaths was being underreported. According to him, until November 23, the official death toll was 8,512 while the cremation grounds under three civic bodies in the city had already performed 10,318 protocol-following funerals.
The Delhi government has denied wrongdoing and has instead accused the corporations, staffed by members of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, of politicising the issue – just as Kejriwal & co. had said when the same thing happened in June.
The government’s defence is that these funerals are of residents of other states who had died in Delhi while being treated in the city’s hospitals for COVID-19 and that these deaths would be reflected in the data of their respective states. The Kejriwal government also said the COVID-19 death toll is revised only after case records have been vetted by the Death Audit Committee.