The Centre announced on Tuesday that it’ll double the testing capacity to 100,000-120,000 with a focus on increasing reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, deploy mobile testing labs and ramp up ICU beds from the current 3,500 to 6,000 in the following few days to arrest the sudden spike in the number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in the national capital.
According to official data, between November 1 and 16, Delhi has added over 100,000 new coronavirus infections while 1,200 people died because of the disease right through this period. Delhi has registered a steep hike in the Covid-19 cases since October 28 when the day by day infections breached the 5,000-mark for the first time and crossed the 8,000-mark on November 11.
“It has been determined that the number of tests will be doubled in Delhi between 1 lakh and 1.2 lakh. And, a strategy for a similar has been devised. Alternatively, we want to make certain that the ratio between rapid antigen tests and the RT PCR is correct; it must not develop into lopsided in the favour of rapid antigen tests,” said union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan at the weekly briefing.
Ten mobile vans will be deployed and labs under Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and other scientific institutions will be roped in to increase testing, said NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul said at the briefing.
Union home minister Amit Shah had chaired a assembly on Sunday, which was once attended by the Delhi L-G, chief minister, top administration and health officials in addition to representatives from the NITI Aayog, ICMR and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). On Monday, the Centre announced charter of 10 multidisciplinary teams to examine Delhi’s private hospitals to check if the number of ward and ICU beds to be had in the hospitals is as per Delhi government orders so far.
On average, the gold standard RT-PCR tests accounted for just about 36% of the complete tests done in Delhi over the past seven days, an increase from around 28% the week before. It will be important to verify high numbers of RT-PCR tests as the alternate rapid antigen test is known to thrown up many false negatives for people who might have the infection. The ratio has been skewed in favour of rapid antigen tests in Delhi since its introduction in mid-June as it is cheap, easy to deploy in dispensaries, and gives ends up in 15 minutes.
To increase testing in the city quickly, Dr Paul said that all the capacity of laboratories in Delhi will be utilised. “Currently, the city does approximately 57,000 tests a day, of which almost 20,000 are done the use of RT-PCR method. Delhi has a capacity of 27,000 tests. This existing capacity will be utilised,” he said. Also, laboratories under the ICMR and the health ministry will be used to add 10,000 tests. Another 1,000 will be added by scientific institutions in the city,” Paul said.
The health ministry will also deploy 10 mobile laboratories for testing as polite. “Five of these mobile laboratories will be operationalized in the next four to five days and the others will be added in a week,” he said.
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All through the briefing, both Dr Paul and Bhushan emphasised that any one who had symptoms of Covid-19 must get themselves tested. They said it was once another “Covid Appropriate Behaviour” along with wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and not going to crowded places, and washing hands incessantly.
With increase in the number of hospitalisations and the intensive care unit beds nearly running full, Dr Paul said that the current 3,500 ICU beds will be increased to 6,000 in the following few days with the assistance of Delhi government, army and central government. The army-run hospital in Dhaula Kuan will add 537 ICU beds, the central government hospitals will add 45 beds, and 2,680 beds will be added by the Delhi government, mostly through the order reserving 80% ICU beds in 33 big private hospitals.
To staff the hospitals, 75 doctors and 250 paramedics from central forces are being flown in. “More than half of them have already arrived and the other will also arrive in the next couple of days. Manpower can also be drawn from central government and municipal corporation-run hospitals,” said Dr Paul.
With the number of active cases on the upward push in the city, the government has also determined to augment the improve system needed for home care to facilitate home isolation of up to 35,000-40,000 people. “The improve system needed for patients in home isolation – telemedicine improve, pulse oximeter, etc – will be ramped up, as the number of active cases might go up someday,” said Dr Paul.
The number of active cases has touched a peak of nearly 44,500 in the city so far, of whom almost 80% people remain in home isolation as per data shared by the Delhi government.
To increase isolation facilities for gentle cases not eligible for home isolation, the union government has determined to operationalize 5,000 beds at the Radha Soami Satsang Beas centre in Chattarpur and 800 beds in railway coaches.
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“The situation is as poor as it was once a week ago; nearly each and every hour I am getting a call to arrange a bed. Even if more beds have been added, there is still a scarcity, and I do not see any signs of the situation bettering any time soon. Probably 10-12 days later, we may see a decrease in numbers but not at this time,” said Dr Rajesh Chawla, senior consultant, respiratory and critical care medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.
“I feel it is worse in private hospitals as people are willing to pay, and there could also be price cap in place, in consequence there is acute scarcity of beds, particularly ICU beds at the present time,” he added.