It is a year since the country announced an unprecedented lockdown to contain the deadly Covid-19 virus. And if you remember, Delhi had announced the lockdown a day earlier than it was announced for the entire nation. To mark the occasion, Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendar Jain, who has been in the thick of Delhi’s battle against the Covid-19 virus, speaks to news18.com.
Q: When you announced a lockdown, what were the challenges in your mind, did you anticipate that things will go in a particular plan?
A: Satyandar Jain: See when Corona began to spread in Delhi and in the country, it was told by the experts that it has a cycle of 14 days. So that one is infected after four or five days of contracting the virus and if one is isolated for 21 days, this cycle is stopped then it could be contained, further spread could be prevented. So we thought that if we announced a 21-day lockdown, then perhaps, this disease would be eliminated. However, in spite of increasing the duration of lockdowns, time and again, the Covid-19 disease could not be eliminated. Not just that, the virus did not even behave as it was thought it would. And, people were also saying that when summers came, with 32 degree temperature, then Corona would disappear. Temperatures rose up to 48 degrees, but Corona persisted. Rains or winters, the Covid-19 virus just persisted. Therefore, no one really had an idea of how the Covid-19 virus behaves.
The biggest learning of lockdown is that the mask is a potent tool. When you go out and if you want to protect yourself, you must wear a mask. Wearing a mask is the most effective tool in containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Q: Is wearing a mask even more effective than the vaccine?
A: Even after being vaccinated, you must wear your mask. I am saying this because some people feel that now that we have taken the vaccines, we are free. There is no freedom, you still will have to keep your mask on.
Q: On Wednesday, Delhi reported more than 1,200 cases, do you believe that Delhi could be witnessing its fourth wave? If you look at the data for the last fortnight, the trend is rising. And, yesterday, the positivity rate also shot up beyond 1.5%.
A: Yes, cases are rising. Yesterday we saw approximately 1,200 cases and it is possible that it may go up to 1,500 cases per day. Cases are rising day by day. There is an issue regarding compliance over here. Secondly, the fact is that cases are rising across the country and not just in Delhi.
Yesterday, more than 50,000 cases were reported from across the country, so if you look at Delhi, cases are rising. But cases are rising across the country, in many States. The reason (for more cases) is that in Delhi, we are testing approximately 80,000 to 90,000 people, which is the highest in terms of population in the entire country, five times higher than the national average. The more you test, the more positives you will get. However, that is a good strategy also. Once someone is found positive, we can isolate that person, isolate the contacts of that person and reduce the risk of further spread.
Q: Is this yet another wave for Delhi?
A: See, in order to confirm this, we have to wait until March 31. Only after that we can decide whether to look at this as yet another wave. Experts also say, just like many other diseases, we have to learn to live with it also. This disease (Covid-19) will also persist and it will not go away completely. So cases will keep coming. Now, whether you look at this as another wave, then we have to wait for at least one week.
Q: Yesterday, Delhi reported six deaths, the highest for any single day in three months since January.
A: See, when it comes to deaths when numbers are rising, it is still below a certain percentage. Yesterday, 1,250 cases were reported and the number of deaths is six. So, the percentage of deaths is 0.5%. If you look at the past figures in Delhi, the percentage was 4% to 4.5%. The historic average (CFR) is close to 1.7% and these days, it is less than 1%. If you compare this to the national average, this is okay even though even one death is unfortunate.
Q: In spite of saturation of information in Delhi, the response for vaccination is still lukewarm. What is the government doing to get more and more people to get vaccinated?
A: One issue is that of registration. People get registered for a particular day, then they become busy and are unable to reach. We changed this. We have increased the timings from 9 am to 5 pm, to 9 am till 9 pm. And after 3 pm, you can go for vaccinations without any registration. Many people are finding it hard to register themselves. Many people are not tech savvy, it is not easy for them to register themselves. Now, after 3 pm, you can go to any centre for vaccinations. If you want it free, you can go to a government facility and if you want to pay for it, you can go to a private facility. This will boost the vaccination drive.
Q: How many people have been vaccinated in Delhi so far?
A: In Delhi, more than one million people have already been vaccinated. Every day 40,000 to 50,000 people are getting vaccinated.
Q: Any evidence of the mutant virus in Delhi?
A: There are two kinds of mutants that have been found in Delhi. However, it is not because of these mutants that the virus is spreading here. I feel, we cannot say that the virus is spreading because of the mutants, it is because of people not wearing masks, or less wearing masks. There’s a feeling that for so many months, nothing has happened. Just as I had said when the third wave hit, it appeared to be fatigue, people stepped out of their houses for the first time and they were going to restaurants, parties etc. Now, after three to four months, again fatigue has set in. Perhaps they are tired of wearing masks. Now, there are no special restrictions, expect for when you step out into the public, keep your mask on.
Let me tell you one more thing, if you go out among the people keeping your mask on, you will protect yourself from ten other diseases. One doctor told me that along with Corona, in three to four years, India will be free from TB along with Corona. When I asked for the reason, he told me that as people wear masks, India will be free from TB. I am emphasizing that you have to wear your mask, you cannot avoid it.
Q: You said that two mutants have been discovered in Delhi. Which are these mutants?
A: The UK variant and the South African variants have been found, however, their numbers are very low.
Q: Looking ahead, when do you think that the present trend of rising cases will start reversing?
A: We will have to wait for one week to say whether this will continue to rise or whether it will stabilise and start coming down.
Q: Enforcement of Covid-appropriate behaviour like social distancing, wearing masks has always been a challenge in Delhi, especially in crowded market areas. In some areas, it is not even possible because the shops themselves are so small. What are you doing to ensure strict enforcement especially around festivals like Holi and other festivals?
A: See, we have already banned public gatherings, orders to the same effect have been issued a day earlier. We are also appealing to people that if you have to observe holi, do so within the confines of your house not in public. Festivals do have a definite impact. Last time, during the Navaratri, there were many festivals which followed each other closely and it had a huge effect.
If there are 50 people who meet without wearing masks, and even if just two are positive, all the others end up with the virus. This acts like a super spreader.
Q: You also had Covid-19. What has been your personal experience of fighting the virus here in the capital?
A: I can only say, instead of fighting it, prevent it. After being detected as a positive, a few things can happen. One is that you may not have any symptoms, you may not even realise and you recover. Second is that you have mild symptoms that do not make much of a difference, then you may have moderate symptoms with moderate difficulties and fourth, you may have severe difficulties. And anything may happen, you cannot say you will have mild or severe symptoms. If symptoms are severe, you risk losing your life. There is no need for any false bravado, it is important to protect oneself.
Q: When you had Covid, what was your experience? What did you go through?
A: When I was detected with Covid-19, I was very busy with work. I had already got tested two to three times but the reports were always negative. So, I thought, it was a false alarm. I had a fever for three to four days but I was working day and night. The day I was shifted to the hospital around 12 midnight – 12 .20am, I had been working till 10 pm despite having a fever. Even otherwise, since 20 years, I have continued working despite having a fever. I thought it was normal. However, it was quite severe and I must say it is the effort of the doctors and others that I recovered.
Q: When people are coming from outside to Delhi, what is the government doing to ensure that those people are monitored so that the virus does not travel from other States to Delhi?
A: There are such cases. I personally know of cases of those who travelled to Punjab, to Maharashtra and upon returning to Delhi were found to be positive. As Delhi is the capital of the country, it sees a great movement of people, both of Delhi residents travelling outside and then returning to the capital and also of those who travel here from other States. There is a large influx and outflow. This is a reason, yesterday of 1,250 people who were positive, more than 100 were from outside. Then there are those who do not disclose their addresses honestly. We are having random testing of people at the airports and railway stations to contain the spread.
Q: The Parliament passed the GNCTD amendment bill yesterday. How will this impact the functioning of the Delhi government and the battle against Covid-19?
A: Till date, Parliament always passed laws to get work done. This is the first time that a law has been passed to stop work being done. It has been specifically written, that before implementing any policy, it has to send to the LG. Now, it will be the LG’s discretion whether to give the go ahead, stop it altogether, or delay it, or just stay silent. This is the first time in the country’s history that a law has been brought to prevent work that is being done.
SC Constitution Bench had given a clear order that the Delhi has an elected government which is answerable to the Assembly, to the people and that the LG merely had to be kept informed, the latter’s permission need not be taken. This is against the Constitution.
It has been clearly written in the bill that before implementing any decision, the permission of the LG has to be obtained. Now, the LG has three options — LG may feel something is not so important so may give the go ahead, LG may decide to sit on the particular file for two to four months, and then send it back along with some queries. So the issue keeps hanging. The LG may keep things hanging indefinitely.
The files relating to Mohalla clinics were with the LG house for one and half years. We had a hunger strike for nine days to get this and other files cleared.
It is unfortunate that for the first time in the country’s history, this is being done to prevent work being done. The BJP, can always do better than us in the States that they are ruling. If the BJP wants to win the race, why doesn’t it run faster? What way is this, of creating obstacles and throwing us off? However, I want to assure that no matter how many obstacles are created, we will continue with our good work.