Cases, positivity rate creep up in Capital
The second official also added that people who were not exposed previously to the infection may have begun mixing among themselves more, giving the virus access to more vulnerable people.
Delhi recorded 813 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, the most since December 24, and the test positivity rate rose beyond the 1% mark for the first time since December 27, suggesting that the Capital may be on the brink of yet another outbreak.
The increase has been particularly sharp since Monday, March 15, when the city saw 368 cases. The trend is in tandem with similar rise in infections in several other states, particularly Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. Overall, the weekly average of new cases a day across India has risen from around 23,500 on March 15 to over 31,600 on March 19.
A Delhi government spokesperson said the situation in the Capital is under control. “Health minister Satyendar Jain is taking review meeting everyday and the administration is well prepared to take necessary actions when cases increase further. We still urge people to take all precautions and follow Covid appropriate behaviour, especially in the light of the festive season ahead,” said an official, while underscoring that other regions such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh “have much higher positivity rate”.
The spokesperson reiterated the Delhi government’s appeal to open up the vaccination drive to include all people above the age of 18. “At present, vaccination is the most effective way to curb the spread of Covid-19. Hence, the government has requested the Centre to open vaccination to all adult citizens of the city. Vaccination centres are also being increased along with their timings being extended by 4 hours,” the spokesperson said.
Union government officials have in recent days attributed the rise in infections to the recent wedding season. On Saturday, at least two district health officials in Delhi said several more factors could be to blame. “Out of the five states that have seen the number of cases shoot up recently, one is Delhi’s neighbour. And, the infection is coming in from there,” said one of the officials, asking not to be named. A second district official said that the rise in day temperatures could be forcing people to stay indoors, raising the likelihood of infections. “What we have seen so far is that the cases are among the middle class people, same as it was during the November surge of cases. This, I think, is mainly because of the change in weather prompting them to remain in air-conditioned environments where the spread can happen more easily,” this person said.
The second official also added that people who were not exposed previously to the infection may have begun mixing among themselves more, giving the virus access to more vulnerable people. “The seroprevalence in Delhi is 56%, this means that there are still 44% of the people who are susceptible to the infection. It is now spreading among them quickly as interactions go up with everything going back to normal after the number of cases reduced,” this person said.
The latest 813 cases came from 75,888 tests. The government spokesperson said the administration is focusing on increasing awareness, increased surveillance, and scaled up enforcement against violation of rules regarding wearing masks and social distancing.
“We are doing the highest number of tests compared to other cities. Delhi’s test figures are nearly five times the national average. Vaccination is also being intensified in all districts. We are keenly monitoring areas that had not witnessed a surge during the last three waves in Delhi. Nearly 60% of the 3,409 active cases in the city are contained or inside containment zones and we are tracing at least 31 persons per Covid positive case,” the spokesperson said.
Experts said it is crucial to increase vaccination coverage now. “The number of cases and positivity rate increasing is a cause for worry. I expect that by the end of the month, we would start reporting 1,000 cases a day. And, the main thing is that we need to speed up our vaccination drive and for that, we need to remove the current age bar in place. In Delhi, over 50% of the people already have been exposed to the infection, it is the remaining 50% who need to be vaccinated quickly,” said Dr SK Sarin, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences and head of the first committee of the Delhi government on the control and management of Covid-19.
Sarin added that the city must also look at what strains are circulating since “we know the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine is lower with the South African variant”. “Another thing we need to ensure is that people who have been vaccinated follow a Covid-19 appropriate behaviour till at least four weeks after receiving the second shot,” he added.
According to the Union government’s Co-WIN dashboard, there have been a little over 990,000 doses delivered in the Capital as on Saturday. CM Arvind Kejriwal announced on Friday that the administration will attempt to accelerate the drive by allowing centres to open till 9pm (from 5pm previously) and by increasing the daily capacity to 125,000. The actual number of doses being given in the Capital has fluctuated between 30,000 and 40,000 over the past week, leading to calls for the Union government to relax the eligibility rules for people to seek doses.
(This story has been updated to accurately reflect the version of the Delhi government spokesperson.)