HC raps Delhi govt on 'deteriorating' COVID-19 situation; you were shaken out of slumber, turned turtle after questions

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New Delhi, Nov 19 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Thursday rapped the AAP government over the surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the national capital, saying it was shaken out of slumber and turned turtle after some questions by the court on its preparedness to tackle the 'deteriorating' situation this month.

Asking the AAP government why it did not wake up when the COVID-19 numbers were spiralling, the court also said the rate at which the number of positive cases was rising it should have been alive to the fact that testing through Rapid Antigen (RAT) method was not serving the purpose and the answer lay in increasing the RT/PCR tests.

A two-judge bench of the court went on to ask the AAP government if it could explain to those who had lost their near and dear ones to COVID-19 in the last 18 days why the administration did not take steps when cases were mounting in the national capital.

The bench, which also asked the government to look at the situation with a 'magnifying glass', observed that it was 'disheartening' to see that the number of daily deaths due to the virus has increased to 131 and fresh COVID cases have risen to 7,486.

The bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad asked why the city government waited till the court intervened to take steps such as reducing the maximum number of people attending weddings to 50 from 200 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

'You (Delhi government) saw from November 1 which way the wind was blowing. But you turn turtle now because we asked you some questions. The bell should have rung loud and clear when the numbers were spiralling. Why did you not wake up when you saw the situation was deteriorating? 'Why did we have to shake you out of your slumber on November 11? What did you do from November 1 till November 11? Why did you wait 18 days (till November 18) to take a decision. Do you know how many lives were lost during this period? Can you explain it to those who lost their near and dear ones,' the bench asked.

It also questioned the AAP government for relaxing the restrictions on public movement and gathering and not putting its house in order despite anticipating in September itself that the number of COVID-19 cases would rise in the national capital during the festival season.

The court also said that even the sero survey report of that month had anticipated the increase in cases.

'You (Delhi government) should have put your house in order. You knew Delhi gets worse during this period due to the air pollution. You knew the cold wave along with the rise in air pollution would be a problem for those having breathing problems.

'You knew it was a cocktail of death for those living in Delhi. You knew which way the cases would go in Delhi.' It also noted that Delhi government statements, with regard to the rising COVID cases, to the press appear to be contrary to the submissions made in court.

The court said that while Delhi government ministers were giving press statements to the effect that the third wave of COVID infections has reached its peak and the numbers are going down, the same 'is not reflected' in the daily figures and the status report before the court.

'We can take judicial note of the statements your ministers are making,' it told senior advocate Sandeep Sethi and Delhi government additional standing counsel Satyakam, who were representing the AAP government.

The court also noted during the hearing that the crematoriums are 'overflowing' and the 'funeral pyres are burning throughout the night', and asked the Delhi government whether adequate arrangements are in place to cremate or bury the rising number of people succumbing to COVID-19.

It said that Delhi government ought to reduce its reliance on the Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) and focus on increasing tests by the more accurate RT/PCR method as more and more asymptomatic persons are testing positive leading to the rising numbers. RT/PCR in short stands for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction.

'Delhi government should have been alive to the fact that RAT is not effective.' The court further directed the Delhi government to file a status report, before the next date of hearing on November 26, indicating the funeral/burial arrangements, increase of ICU beds in its hospitals by an additional number of 663 and number of care homes for accommodating those who cannot home quarantine themselves.

On implementation of social distancing norms, prevention of spitting and wearing of masks, the court was not satisfied with the monitoring being done by the Delhi government in some districts where COVID-19 numbers were high.

It also said there appeared to be substantial disparity in monitoring and imposition of fines in certain districts as compared to others.

'What kind of monitoring and marshalling are you doing? Look at the situation seriously with a magnifying glass. You have crossed cities like New York and Sao Paolo,' the court said.

The court was hearing a PIL by advocate Rakesh Malhotra seeking increase in the COVID-19 testing numbers in the national capital and getting speedy results.

The court on November 11 had pulled up the Delhi government for relaxing norms for public movement and gatherings even as COVID-19 cases were increasing with no household 'left untouched', and sought to know if it had any policy or strategy in place to deal with the 'alarming' situation. PTI HMP RKS GSN GSN GSN