The Centre announced on Tuesday that it will 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 next 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 due to the disease during this period. Delhi has registered a steep hike in the Covid-19 cases since October 28 when the daily infections breached the 5,000-mark for the first time and crossed the 8,000-mark on November 11.
“It has been decided that the number of tests will be doubled in Delhi between 1 lakh and 1.2 lakh. And, a strategy for the same has been devised. However, we need to ensure that the ratio between rapid antigen tests and the RT PCR is right; it should not become 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 meeting on Sunday, which was attended by the Delhi L-G, chief minister, top administration and health officials as well as representatives from the NITI Aayog, ICMR and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). On Monday, the Centre announced constitution of 10 multidisciplinary teams to inspect Delhi’s private hospitals to check whether the number of ward and ICU beds available in the hospitals is as per Delhi government orders so far.
On average, the gold standard RT-PCR tests accounted for almost 36% of the total tests done in Delhi over the last seven days, an increase from around 28% the week before. It is necessary to ensure 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 results in 15 minutes.
To increase testing in the city quickly, Dr Paul said that the entire capacity of laboratories in Delhi will be utilised. “Currently, the city does about 57,000 tests a day, of which nearly 20,000 are done using 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 well. “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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During the briefing, both Dr Paul and Bhushan emphasised that anyone who had symptoms of Covid-19 should get themselves tested. They said it was another “Covid Appropriate Behaviour” in addition to wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and not going to crowded places, and washing hands frequently.
With increase in the number of hospitalisations and the intensive care unit beds almost running full, Dr Paul said that the current 3,500 ICU beds will be increased to 6,000 in the next few days with the help 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 will also be drawn from central government and municipal corporation-run hospitals,” said Dr Paul.
With the number of active cases on the rise in the city, the government has also decided to augment the support system needed for home care to facilitate home isolation of up to 35,000-40,000 people. “The support system needed for patients in home isolation – telemedicine support, pulse oximeter, etc – will be ramped up, as the number of active cases might go up in the future,” said Dr Paul.
The number of active cases has touched a peak of almost 44,500 in the city so far, of whom nearly 80% people remain in home isolation as per data shared by the Delhi government.
To increase isolation facilities for mild cases not eligible for home isolation, the union government has decided 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 bad as it was a week ago; almost every hour I get a call to arrange a bed. Even though more beds have been added, there is still a shortage, and I do not see any signs of the situation improving any time soon. Probably 10-12 days later, we may see a decrease in numbers but not right now,” 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 is also price cap in place, as a result there is acute shortage of beds, especially ICU beds at the moment,” he added.
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