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‘One more lockdown’: Delhi CM calls for new curbs after spike in COVID-19 cases

NEW DELHI: India’s capital could impose a new lockdown to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in New Delhi in the past couple of weeks, even as experts called out the government’s “utter failure” in handling the crisis.

“We are sending a general proposal to the central government so that, if required, the Delhi government can shut down those markets for a few days,” Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Delhi is a federally administered Union Territory with an elected legislature. However, unlike a full-fledged state, the chief minister of Delhi enjoys limited powers and for any major administrative decision has to get the permission of Lieutenant Governor, a central government’s nominee who enjoys wide-ranging powers.

On Monday, Delhi recorded 3,797 new infections and 99 deaths, taking the total tally to more than 490,000 infections and nearly 8,000 fatalities.

Kejriwal suggested capping the number of guests at weddings as a restrictive measure.

“In keeping with the central government’s guidelines, Delhi had allowed up to 200 people at weddings. But now we have decided to go back to the earlier limit of 50 people,” Kejriwal said.

The rise in cases follows the Durga Puja and Diwali celebrations in the past month, with many people thronging to the markets, defying all anti-virus measures for COVID-19.

The increased numbers have brought additional pressure on hospitals, with many in the capital reporting full intensive care units.

On Sunday, the federal government held an emergency meeting with Delhi and decided to add more ICU beds. Some media reports quoted Home Minister Amit Shah as saying that New Delhi would fly in medical professionals from outside the New Delhi region to deal with the rising cases.

“The situation is likely to worsen over the next few weeks,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after Sunday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, Kejriwal on Tuesday said that “the state and central government and all agencies are doubling their efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in Delhi.”

However, experts aren’t convinced, with several blaming the deteriorating air quality in the capital for adding to the problem.

“The festive season has been underway for the last few weeks, and the people have lowered their guard, not following the protocol of wearing masks. The sad thing is that winter is setting in and air pollution is going up, both of which pose a risk for respiratory illness,” public health expert and researcher Dr Anant Bhan told Arab News.

On Tuesday, India registered nearly 31,000 new cases, taking the national caseload to almost 9 million, with 131,000 deaths reported – out of a population of nearly 1.4 billion – making it the world’s second-worst affected nation after the US.

Some experts blamed the government’s inadequate response to the crisis for the uptick in numbers.

“Unless you do excessive testing, excessive isolation and boosting of health infrastructure, no substantial difference is going to be made in the fight against coronavirus,” said the president of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti.

He added that the government was taking “cosmetic” measures to tackle the crisis and blamed the ruling political parties – both in Delhi and the centre – for “deliberating violating protocols.”

“Kejriwal held a big celebration for Diwali festival, and the central government held a gala party to celebrate the success in the elections in Bihar,” Bhatti said, before questioning the “seriousness” of the anti-virus measures in place.

“The fact that the positivity rate in Delhi is 12.7 percent shows the utter failure of the regime. The positive rate should not be more than 2 percent to 3 percent,” he said.

India announced a nationwide lockdown on March 25 and continued for three months without a break, which many say was unprecedented. The lockdown, however, did not yield the desired results.

Bhan says the crisis could have been avoided with “better planning.”

“We could have effectively leveraged our human resources, making the health system strong enough, our testing capacity should have been enhanced,” he said, adding that authorities needed to be “more transparent.”

Bhatti agrees and said that the Indian government had been an “utter failure” in handling the outbreak.

“Right from the beginning, the government has not been sincere. They don’t have any understanding of the disease. I am worried about how they will handle the vaccine with this poor medical infrastructure. We don’t have the capacity to store vaccines under minus 80 degree,” he said.

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