Is Delhi going the Mumbai way in bed-shortage?

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Published: June 9, 2020 4:30 AM

A Delhi govt panel suggests this may be the case; junk the testing rules, maybe call the Army for help in adding to beds

Converting hotels into hospitals, or converting more non-Covid private hospital beds into Covid ones is certainly possible, but takes timeConverting hotels into hospitals, or converting more non-Covid private hospital beds into Covid ones is certainly possible, but takes time.

The Delhi government’s rules for restricting testing—even stricter than central government/ICMR’s rules—never really made sense given that at least 21% of those who were tested in the capital were found to be Covid-positive; indeed, if you go by the number the government gave the Delhi High Court, the ratio could be as high as 38%.

Indeed, with such restricted rules for testing—at a time when 70-80% of those with Covid-19 are asymptomatic—and fairly unimpressive levels of contact tracing of the infected, it is hardly surprising that Delhi’s infections have been spreading as fast as they have. Among the states with large number of cases, only Tamil Nadu seems to be showing a daily growth rate that is faster than Delhi’s 5%; Tamil Nadu has 31,667 cases versus Delhi’s 28,936 and is growing at 5.1% while Maharashtra has 85,975 cases and is growing at a much lower 3.4%. Ideally, Delhi should, like Mumbai, loosen the restrictions on testing since, the more people are declared Covid-positive the more quarantining there will be, resulting in a slightly lower spread of the infection.

Based on a panel set up by the Delhi government, the city will need close to 42,000 hospital beds—not quarantine facilities—by mid-July and around 15,000 by the end of June; the city has around 8,500 Covid beds right now. This is even higher than projections by others such as paragkar.com that estimate the city will have 1.4 lakh infections by mid-July and 2.8 lakh by July 31.

The 42,000 beds the expert panel spoke of—the report is not out, but the panel head spoke to the media on its headline numbers—implies the city will have 1.7 lakh active cases by mid-July (based on the current hospitalisation rates) and that, in turn, means it will have around a total of 2.9 lakh cases. At 2.9 lakh cases, Delhi will have 13,428 cases per million persons, or roughly the average of big cities like New York, Singapore, Milan and London.

If the city is headed that way, as in the case of Mumbai, it would appear the Delhi government has left the rollout of Covid-capacity far too late. Mumbai had a total bed capacity of just 9,092 on June 3—it was up to 9,292 on June 5—and according to information put out by the state government, these beds were running at a 94% capacity! Delhi, going by its app has 8,270 Covid-19 beds and 4,162 of them are vacant. That is a comfortable number right now, but there are already anecdotal reports of people not being able to find beds; it is argued that the app doesn’t accurately reflect 24×7 realities.

But even if it does, moving from 8,270 to 44,000 is a mammoth task and cannot be achieved by the current piecemeal approach of adding to capacity by, at various points in time, converting hotels into hospitals—one reason why hotels have not been allowed to open is that the government wants to keep them reserved in case more beds are needed—or by sequestering more beds from private hospitals.

Converting hotels into hospitals, or converting more non-Covid private hospital beds into Covid ones is certainly possible, but takes time; Delhi also has a big shortage of doctors in government hospitals. While the government should go ahead with its plans to create more capacity, it would do well to request the central government to ask the army to create field-hospital capacity at the earliest; more instances of critically ill persons not being able to find hospital beds, as in Mumbai, will only add to the panic.

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