"In a population of 2 crore, it's no big deal if there are 1,500 dengue cases. Even if the figures cross 3,000, still it won't be an alarming situation," said Union Health Secretary K.Sujatha Rao—six days before the first group of Commonwealth Games athletes arrive in Delhi.
"I don't see this outbreak growing any further, definitely not to alarming proportions. The situation is very much under control," she said.
Delhi's dengue outbreak has prompted 20 countries to ask the Centre for a situation update, especially since the infection peaks in October. Dengue has infected 1,652 and killed four, according to Municipal Corporation of Delhi data. An average of 60-70 dengue cases are officially being reported daily.
If figures from private hospitals and laboratories are considered, the numbers would be much higher.
"About 70 people test positive for dengue each day," said Dr Vandana Lal, in-charge laboratory operations, Dr Lal's Path Lab, one of the over hundred labs in the city.
"It is unfortunate that Commonwealth Games Village (CWG) and dengue seem to converge, and that some countries have issued travel advisories for something which is a worldwide problem. But they don't need worry. The areas where athletes and delegates will live and practice are under constant surveillance and intensified measures are being taken to curb mosquito-breeding in those areas," said Rao.
CWG sites are the epicentre of mosquito breeding in Delhi, with the MCD blaming increased construction for the outbreak. "Games projects have been delayed and as a result the diggings carried out have turned into mosquito breeding grounds," V.K. Monga, chairman, public health committee, MCD.
Since the Games Village is on the Yamuna riverbank, Delhi government agencies are finding it extremely difficult to pump out rainwater, which, at some places is 30 feet deep. "Using the Armed Forces is one solution that is being considered, as the army is used to handling such uneven terrain and flood-like situations," said Kiran Walia, Delhi health minister.
All the CWG sites have been fined several times over the last three months for allowing dengue-causing mosquitoes to breed. With the rains continuing and the city dug up, cases are likely to rise further as dengue peaks in October.
Rao said introducing preventive measures earlier would not have worked. "We can't fumigate the entire city just like that. We need to start getting cases, only after we analyse the pattern can we zero-in on areas where the fumigation is required. We can't produce results overnight, it takes at least two weeks for numbers to start coming down," she said.
One week is all the time they have to clean up the town before the athletes start coming in.