Delhi rolls out graded plan for Covid-19 curbs
Private offices, malls, weekly markets and the Metro will be shut down in Delhi if the test positivity rate (TPR) rises above 2%, and the city will be put under a curfew if the number breaches 5%, according to a new Covid-19 action plan approved by authorities that sets clear thresholds for curbs that kick in from as low as 0.5% TPR in order to scuttle an outbreak.
The graded response action plan, which harks back to a similar mechanism to fight air pollution during pre-winter months, was drafted by an expert committee formed by the Delhi government and approved by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).
It classifies outbreak severity into four bands – yellow, amber, orange and red – with each representing a more severe outbreak and, thus, stricter curbs than the one preceding it.
“In today’s DDMA meeting, ‘Graded Response Action Plan’ was approved. There will now be no confusion regarding when lockdown is to be imposed and when scaled down. In the meeting, we also had discussions on Delta+ variant. We have to protect Delhi from spread of this variant (of the virus), for which the government is taking all necessary actions,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted after the meeting.
The colour-coded classifications take into account three factors: the test positivity rate over two consecutive days, new cases over a seven-day period, and the average weekly hospital occupancy rate (see box).
Had such rules been in place prior to the April wave of infections in the Capital, a lockdown would have been put into place 10 days sooner than it was – the city crossed the 5% threshold for what is now the red alert category on April 9. A full lockdown was announced only on April 19.
To be sure, the test positivity rate in the Capital has been 0.12% over the past two days, there have been 580 cases in the last seven days and, over the last week, the number of hospital beds occupied has reduced form a little over 620 to 450 on Friday.
“Now that this plan is going to be in view of the public, there will be a sense of certainty and accountability on our part towards the people of Delhi. The plan descriptively elaborates upon when the lockdown will be imposed and when it will be lifted. This kind of a graded plan should be adopted at the national level as well… We can’t let our guard down, the preparation for the road map of an impending third (nationwide) wave (of Covid-19) is being worked upon consistently by the Delhi government,” Kejriwal said in a press statement.
The chief minister is the vice-chairperson of the DDMA, which is headed by lieutenant governor Anil Baijal.
A senior official in Baijal’s office, who asked not to be named, said: “After detailed deliberations and presentations made by the health department of the Delhi government and the Indian Council of Medical Research, it was decided to notify the graded response action plan that will objectively and transparently ensure an institutional and automatic response with regards to enforcement measures, lock downs and unlock based on criteria such as test positivity rate and quantum of cases.”
According to the plan, seen by HT, the first of curbs are triggered when the positivity rate crosses 0.5%, or new cases over a week exceeds 1,500, or if there are more than 500 oxygen beds occupied on average over a seven-day period.
Once any of these thresholds are breached, the city is under a yellow alert mechanism in which non-essential shops are allowed to open only on an odd-even basis, a night curfew comes into force, and offices are required to move half of their staff to a work-from-home function.
If test positivity, case numbers and hospitalisations rise further, the amber alert comes into effect. In this scenario, some venues and activities are completely halted: parks need to close, barber shops cannot open, and dining in at restaurants will be prohibited (as will the opening of bars). Amber alert is when TPR rises above 1%, or if there are more than 3,500 cases over a week, or if oxygen bed occupancy surpasses 700.
The next alert level, orange, takes effect if TPR breaches 2%, the number of new cases in a week goes beyond 9,000, or if the average number of oxygen beds occupied over the week goes beyond 3,000. In this scenario, private offices, malls, Metro rail services and weekly markets will be shut down.
In the most severe red alert category (if TPR is above 5%, cumulative weekly case above 16,000 or hospital occupancy above 3,000), there will be a 24-hour curfew with people allowed outside only for essential services. In this scenario, all offices engaged in non-essential work need to shift to a completely work-from-home functioning.
The new mechanism also makes it mandatory for incoming passengers in the national capital to produce a certificate of full vaccination (both doses) or a negative RT-PCR test report not older than 72 hours if Delhi is on red alert. People coming by air from states with positivity rate higher than 5%, or if they come by any mode of transport from a state with positivity rate is of 10% or more, irrespective of the alert applicable in Delhi, too, will be subjected to the same requirements.
People coming from a state where a new variant is found spreading, irrespective of the nature of alert in Delhi at that point, will also need to show vaccination certificates or a negative test, the documents said.
Friday’s DDMA meeting was also attended by Dr VK Paul of Niti Aayog, Dr Balram Bhargav of ICMR, Dr Randeep Guleria, director, AIIMS, and Dr SK Singh of NCDC, said the official in the L-G’s office.
Experts welcomed the response plan. Dr Charu Hans, the head of the department of microbiology at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences, said: “Such anticipatory actions are likely to prevent any delays and avoid confusion, and conceivably lead to effective preventive measures in limiting the spread of Covid-19 disease. The experience gained in the last two waves of the disease and learning about mutations of the virus have enabled the government to come up with such a strategy. This strategy can play an important role in limiting the impact of a potential third wave.”