Kerjriwal seeks to shut down markets emerging as Covid hotspots; Centre to increase ICU beds to 6K, double testing

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New Delhi, Nov 17 (PTI) Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday sought the Centre's nod for shutting down markets which could be COVID-19 hotspots, as authorities spelled out a fortified strategy including increasing ICU beds, doubling the testing capacity to nearly 1.2 lakh and deploying around 8000 surveillance teams in the wake of an alarming spike in cases.

Addressing an online media briefing, Kejriwal also said that the Delhi government has sent a proposal to Lt Governor Anil Baijal to allow only 50 people to attend wedding ceremonies against the earlier limit of 200.

As the national capital has witnessed a spurt in coronavirus cases, people coming from Delhi to Noida will be randomly tested for COVID-19 from Wednesday.

However, there will be no restriction on the free movement of people between Noida and Delhi, District Magistrate of Gautam Buddha Nagar Suhas L Y Suhas told PTI.

On Tuesday, Delhi recorded 6,396 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking the infection tally in the national capital to over 4.95 lakh, while 99 more fatalities pushed the toll to 7,812, authorities said.

These fresh cases came out of the 49,031 tests conducted the previous day, while the positivity rate stood at 13.04 percent.

During the media briefing, Kejriwal said that according to directions and guidelines of the Centre, 200 participants were earlier allowed in wedding ceremonies due to the decreasing number of coronavirus cases.

'Now, a proposal has been sent to LG Baijal for his approval to withdraw the previous order and bring the number of guests for wedding ceremonies back to 50 from 200,' he said.

The chief minister said the Centre and all agencies are making 'double efforts' to control the COVID-19 situation in the national capital.

'We are sending a proposal to the Centre to give power to the Delhi government to impose lockdown in market areas which may emerge as COVID-19 hotspots,' the chief minister said.

Earlier in the day, the Delhi government had used the term of local 'lockdown' in its press release, but later it revised it to 'shut down'.

The Congress, meanwhile, said that the proposal would have a disastrous result and the government should impose a total shutdown of markets, public transport and offices to save precious lives.

Kejriwal said that during Diwali, it was seen that many people were not wearing masks and were violating social distancing norms due to which the coronavirus spread.

'I hope the crowd in the markets will thin out and there will be no need to lock them down.

'However, if violations of mask-wearing and social distancing are witnessed and there is a chance of these markets becoming local coronavirus hotspots, these could be shut down as a preventive measure for some days,' said Kejriwal.

Delhi witnessed a sudden spike in novel coronavirus cases since October 28 when the daily rise breached the 5,000-mark for the first time and it crossed the 8,000-mark on Wednesday.

According to official data, the city recorded over one lakh new coronavirus cases and around 1,200 deaths between November 1-16 while nearly 94,000 COVID-19 patients recovered during the same period.

Meanwhile, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, during a press conference, said 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 then plateaued out.

The recent spike of COVID cases could be because many positive cases escaped the net, he said.

'In the last two days, the 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,' he said.

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.

Elaborating further, NITI Aayog member V K Paul who heads COVID national taskforce 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, which was 3,523, we will increase it to over 6,000 ICU beds in the next few days. Arrangement of over 537 new ICU beds have been made at the 1000-bed Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel COVID facility operated by DRDO,' he said.

The Delhi government is making arrangements for 2,680 ICU beds. In big hospitals under the Centre like Safdarjung and Lady Hardinge also beds will be increased. 'We have a plan to increase ICU bed strength by 80 percent,' 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 will be deployed in the national capital.

'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 capacity 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.

During the media briefing, Kejriwal thanked the central government for helping the people of Delhi in 'such difficult times' and appealed to Delhiites with folded hands to wear masks and follow social distancing norms.

Meanwhile, the North MCD said it has kept 20 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients at its Hindu Rao Hospital, the biggest municipal hospital in the national capital. PTI VIT PLB UZM KIS KND BUN RT