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COVID-19 situation in Delhi “unprecendented” says Niti but no new lockdown on the horizon

Air pollution from power plant chimneys. Toxic air concept. Mother Earth illustration. Image credit: jvdwolf / 123rf
Air pollution in Delhi is exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: jvdwolf / 123rf

The COVID-19 situation in Delhi is “unprecedented” according to government think tank Niti Aayog. However, the state health minister has disavowed a new lockdown.

During a meeting chaired by Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, Niti Aayog chairman Dr Vinod K. Paul warned that the COVID-19 situation in Delhi “is likely to become worse.” The meeting, held on Sunday, came on the heels of a week which saw 51,000 cases including 8,500 cases recorded in just one day. 

However, state health minister Satyender Jain told ANI that a fresh lockdown is currently off the cards. “There will be no reimposition of lockdown in Delhi,” he said. “I don’t think it will be an effective step now. Wearing of masks by everyone will be more beneficial. The third wave of COVID-19 has passed its peak in Delhi.”

The COVID-19 situation in Delhi has been exacerbated by the national capital’s pollution crisis. The day after Diwali saw the National Capital Region’s worst air quality in four years. Stubble burning in neighbouring states, setting off of firecrackers and clement winds were pinpointed as the main contributors.  

“There is a definitive association between COVID mortality and air pollution,” said Delhi-based epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya, quoted by The Financial Times. “More people with respiratory diseases will develop symptoms.” The Financial Times also quotes Johannes Gutenberg University-based cardiologist Thomas Münzel in Mainz, Germany, who describes air pollution as a “super-spreader” for COVID-19.

A report filed today in The Indian Express does outline that “in the last two days, Delhi has reported about half the number of new cases of coronavirus infections than it had been reporting for the last two weeks.” However, it states, “that is most likely a result of low testing than any rapid significant decline in the spread of the disease. For the last two days Delhi has carried out less than half the tests it was doing earlier.” (Testing issues are not a problem isolated to Delhi and have been a problem in India since the early stages of the pandemic).

Of the claim that the national capital is past the peak of a third wave – one iterated not only by Jain but by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, the Indian Express report adds “the numbers suggest that it might still be a little premature to say so. There has been a decline in the numbers after more than 8,500 cases were detected on November 11, but there is no steady pattern as of now. 

“And, even with reduced numbers, Delhi remains the highest contributor of cases in the country. The only exception had been on Sunday, when Kerala had reported [a] higher number of cases.”

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has asserted that “double efforts” are being made by agencies in the national capital to control the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In addition, he has requested authorisation from the Union Government as of today to impose shutdowns on markets that could become hotspots of the disease. Additionally, to tackle air pollution, the state government convened a so-called “Green War Room” last month. 

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to scale up the capacity of hospital beds in the national capital, especially in intensive care units. The Union Government hopes to up the number to 6,431, compared to 3,491 at present. 

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