Doubling testing capacity, raising ICU beds among steps to tackle COVID spike in Delhi: Govt

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New Delhi, Nov 17 (PTI) Doubling COVID-19 testing capacity to 1-1.2 lakh daily and increasing ICU beds to over 6,000 are among the decisions taken by the government to tackle the spike in coronavirus infections in Delhi, the Centre said on Tuesday.

A decision has also been taken to increase house-to-house surveillance of active cases in containment zones and other vulnerable pockets in the national capital and 7,000-8,000 teams will be engaged for this exercise, an increase from the existing 3,000 teams that are currently involved.

At a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan spoke about the upsurge in number of COVID-19 cases in Delhi and the action plan made by the health ministry in cooperation with the Delhi government, Indian Council of Medical Research, NITI Aayog and AIIMS to control the chain of spread of the pandemic. 'Delhi was testing very less in June at around 5,776 tests per day and that number rose to over 50,000 in September which after it plateaued out and the recent spike of COVID-19 infections may be because many positive cases escaped the net.

'A steady increase in the number of tests is crucial or else a huge number of people with infection might escape from our radar and it may result in further spread of the infection,' he stressed. 'In the last two days, decision of urgent actions taken by the government included an increase in overall beds, including ICU beds, doubling testing to 1-1.2 lakh per day, right mix of RT-PCR and antigen tests, strengthening and augmenting home care support, mobilising doctors and nurses, enforcing quarantine of contacts, containment zone SOPs and COVID appropriate behaviour,' Bhushan added.

Elaborating further, NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul, who also heads the National Task Force on COVID-19 said the ICU bed capacity will be increased from 3,523 to over 6,000 in the next few days in hospitals across Delhi.

'The capacity of ICU beds, which was 3,523 will be increased to over 6,000 in the 3 to 5 days. The Union government, Delhi government and private sector will jointly work to accomplish this.

'The arrangement of over 537 new ICU beds have been made at the 1,000-bedded Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel COVID facility operated by DRDO. The Delhi government is making arrangements for 2,680 ICU beds, and big hospitals under the Centre like Safdarjung and Lady Harding, in these also 45 beds will be increased. We have a plan to increase ICU bed strength by 80 per cent,' he said.

There is an immediate plan to activate 5,000 isolation and oxygen beds at Chattarpur Radha Soami Satsang Beas as an additional buffer in the NCR. Railways have made available around 1,000 beds which are acting as a reserve now, he said.

On increasing the testing capacity, Paul said that arrangements would be put in place to enable ICMR and central government laboratories to do 10,000 more tests a day. Besides that, 10 mobile laboratories are being planned of which five will start functioning in the next 4-5 days. Also a right mix of test to be adopted so that optimum number and quality sharing between RT-PCR and antigen tests as per protocol is ensured, Paul said. 'We will utilise the capacity of science and technology research institutes for testing too,' he said.

'If cases go up higher, we plan to ramp up the manpower to monitor 35,000 to 40,000 active cases in home isolation at any given time. We have a plan along with the Delhi government on that,' he said.

Paul further said that the private sector has been a very important part of the government's efforts.

'In order to improve coordination 10 multidisciplinary teams have been constituted which will visit private health facilities in Delhi to see whether they are following COVID-19 protocols and also help them serve the people better,' he said.

Paul urged people to get tested if they have any symptom of COVID-19.

'The situation is such that we trace 16 people for every positive case in Delhi. It is the responsibility of citizens that if they come in contact of any positive person for more than 15 minutes they should go voluntarily in quarantine,' he said.

'There is a whole-hearted 360 degree effort to take care of the worrying situation which has emerged in Delhi, we all will face it together. The fact remains that we have to be vigilant. Beyond a stage this kind of an intensity of pandemic can be very dangerous to lives, livelihoods as well as total fabric of the society,' he said. 'The kind of situation developing in Delhi the numbers we talked about is unsustainable and unprecedented. Be scared of it,' he said.

In a response to another query on the availability of beds in Delhi, the health secretary mentioned that '10 teams consisting of 3 members each have been sent to visit various hospitals in the NCR to have a dialogue and report about the transparency in allocation of beds.' Giving an overall picture, Bhushan said over 12.65 crore COVID-19 tests have been conducted so far and the cumulative positivity rate has come down to 7.01 per cent.

'India is much ahead of Russia, France and the United Kingdom when it comes to daily tests conducted,' he said. Ten states and union territories, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal, account for 76.7 per cent of the total active cases of COVID-19 in the country. 'We believe that effects of elections, Durga Puja, Diwali etc are still to be played out in full and may be seen in the coming weeks. We have to keep watching the new cases very carefully,' Bhushan added. PTI PLB/UZM ZMN