New Delhi September 2, 2020 UPDATED: September 2, 2020 16:10 IST
Has the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, got a fresh lease of life in Delhi? The city is reporting a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases, particularly since mid-August.
The Covid-19 website of the government showed Delhi reporting more than 2,300 cases in 24 hours ending Wednesday morning. This was the sharpest single-day spike in almost two months.
The daily cases of Covid-19 had been declining since July 4 when a single-day high of 2,520 cases was recorded. June 23 recorded an overall highest single-day spike of over 3,900 cases.
The general decline in daily cases of Covid-19 raised hopes that the combined efforts of the Centre and the Delhi government seemed to have worked in taking the city towards flattening the Covid-19 pandemic curve.
However, the recent spike in daily caseloads has pushed active Covid-19 cases to over 15,800 from a low of 9,897 recorded on August 4. So, what has pushed the Covid-19 numbers up in Delhi?
An extended spell of coronavirus lockdown seems to have resulted in mental fatigue among the population and workers engaged in Covid-19 awareness and prevention campaigns. It is a common sight in Delhi’s markets to see people carrying out their routine business without caring to wear face masks or adhering to social distancing norms.
Recently, the Delhi Police said it had fined around 1.9 lakh people for not wearing masks. The maximum number of people was penalized in Outer Delhi comprising areas such as Mongolpuri, Sultanpuri, and Kanjhawala, all of which have a high percentage of low-income populations. New Delhi – comprising what is popularly called the Lutyens’ zone – saw the minimum number of people fined for not wearing a mask.
A commoner could be heard saying, “Kab tak Yahi sab Karte rahenge” [for how long can we keep doing all this] at public places if someone objected to them not following the Covid-19 Unlock protocol.
PLATEAUING OF COVID-19 TESTING
When the Covid-19 outbreak turned into a pandemic early this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had just one prescription to contain its spread: Test, Test, and Test. Increasing the number of Covid-19 tests has been the key to winning the battle against the pandemic as early diagnosis, isolation of the patient, and treatment can prevent its further spread.
Delhi had a general trend of increasing testing numbers until about mid-July. For some reason, as the number of fresh cases of Covid-19 started to decline, the number of coronavirus testing either plateaued or declined.
From the high of 24,195 Covid-19 tests on July 3, the number came down to 9,265 on August 4. It has picked up the pace again in the second half of August as cases started rising alarmingly. Lack of testing increases the threat of the unsuspected and undetected spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Delhi LG Anil Baijal highlighted the threat the current spike in Covid-19 cases poses to the city in check further spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The month of August saw the greater reopening of Delhi’s markets, offices, and factories. More and more people have been leaving work-from-home setups and heading to their workplaces. This is evident from the traffic snarls seen on Delhi’s roads over the past few weeks.
Malls, weekly markets, restaurants, hotels, and local parks have opened. With lockdown fatigue catching up, it has become difficult to maintain the one-meter distance in the market places. In some areas, the e-rickshaws and local auto-rickshaws have been seen carrying more than two passengers, flouting the Covid-19 protocol.
The consequences were reported in the second sero survey report that anticipated that nearly one-third of Delhi’s population could be infected with the novel coronavirus. Delhi has a population of around 2 crores. The official Covid-19 number in the city stands at 1.77 lakh.
There is another argument according to which Delhi has seen a fresh spurt in Covid-19 cases due to a large number of people coming to the city’s hospitals with coronavirus infection from outside the city.
Some reports have quoted doctors working in Covid-19 hospitals as saying that the share of “outsiders” in the coronavirus wards could be as high as 50-80 percent in recent weeks.
This could have become possible with the opening of inter-state transport. This also coincided with spurts in cases in places for which Delhi is the healthcare destination — particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Pandemics are known to progress in the same way as sea waves. Such progression could happen at the local or national level. Some experts have called the fresh spike in Covid-19 cases in Delhi as the second wave of the pandemic in the city.
Such waves were seen in the cities of China, Italy, and Spain. Since a second wave is not clinically distinct from the first wave, it is difficult to draw a line for Delhi. But the city is under a fresh spell of coronavirus and the graph of its daily caseloads appears similar to that seen in previous months when SARS-CoV-2 was on the rampage.
The Delhi government had earlier said it has created an over 10,000-bed capacity for Covid-19 cases. Most of the Covid-19 patients are in home isolation in Delhi. But the active case count is about 16,000 and the fresh cases are still rising. And so, Delhi could need a fresh look at strategies to fight the pandemic.