On November 17, Delhi recorded 6,397 fresh Covid cases within 24 hours. Exactly a month ago, this figure had been 3,259. The worst the city saw in recent months was 8,593 new cases on November 11. The positivity rate, too, has been consistently above 11 per cent for the past two weeks, up from six per cent in September. There had been initial hopes that what is being termed as the city’s “third wave” will see a downturn once the festive season is over, but the surge continues. Although only 3,200 new cases were recorded on November 15, the number of tests done had also fallen during festival days from around 58,000 per day to 25,000. Doctors say that the wave is not going to end simply because festivals are over, it will when the public revises their behaviour, particularly with respect to mask etiquettes and crowding together.
There are particular concerns over crowding in market places—a trend that isn’t limited to Diwali alone, but has been on the rise with the onset of the winter season. According to official statistics, on November 15, around 225 shopkeepers across Tilak Nagar, Raghubir Nagar and Jail Road markets were tested, out of which 41 people—more than 18 per cent—have tested positive so far. In Central Delhi, around 650 RT-PCR tests have been done on shopkeepers and the results are awaited. The Delhi Government is considering imposing a lockdown in market places that emerge as Covid hotspots to reduce the spread of infection. It has already reduced the number of guests allowed at a congregation to 50 from the 200, which had been introduced barely two weeks ago. The fear isn’t just that more people are testing positive, but equally the rising number of deaths—99 people died due to Covid on November 17, up from merely nine deaths on August 17. While the city’s case fatality ratio of 1.6 per cent is still low, doctors are seeing more complicated cases as the disease combines with growing pollution levels. “Pollution and Covid together is a deadly combination for respiratory health,” says Apollo pulmonologist Dr Rajesh Chawla. Already, hospitals have been reporting the long-term side effects on lung and organ health of Covid survivors. With pollution, these could become all the more complicated to manage. However, many feel that simply shutting down markets and setting up containment zones will not be enough to keep cases down. The government needs to invest in testing, tracing and public awareness for a sustainable long-term solution to the pandemic.
The fact that Covid can be kept in check without a lockdown can be seen through the example of Delhi’s neighbouring state Uttar Pradesh which has earned praise from the World Health Organization for its Covid management strategy. Unlike Delhi, the UP government placed special emphasis on contact tracing. A WHO team found that of the 58,000 positive individuals traced in 75 districts, over 93 per cent high-risk contacts were traced. The government had put together a field team of over 70,000 workers to ensure everyone who could possibly have been exposed is put into immediate isolation or is tested. The state has only 22,000 active cases as of November 17. In September, this figure had been close to 70,000 active cases. The positivity rate of the state is only 3 per cent as on November 17. There have also been consistent efforts to improve mask etiquette and ensure social distancing in crowded places. Large events are still not allowed in the state. It shows that a lockdown is not necessary to contain Covid. Masks, contact tracing, and testing can do the job equally well, if not better.
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