A civil defence volunteer wearing a coronavirus-themed helmet during an awareness campaign at a market in New Delhi(AFP)
A civil defence volunteer wearing a coronavirus-themed helmet during an awareness campaign at a market in New Delhi(AFP)

Delhi ‘actively considering’ night curfew to combat Covid, HC told

MHA guidelines on Wednesday said state authorities shall not impose any lockdown outside containment zones without consulting the Union government
By Richa Banka | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 27, 2020 07:15 AM IST

The Delhi government on Thursday informed the Delhi high court that it is “actively considering” a night curfew or a weekend lockdown as part of its effort to slow the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the Capital.

The government was responding to the court, which sought to know whether the Capital is implementing any lockdown in order to check the surge in Covid-19 cases. Delhi has seen an average of 6,103 cases over the last seven days, and its positivity rate rose to as high as 15.3% on November 15; on Thursday, the Union territory recorded 5,475 cases and a positivity rate of 8.65%, reflecting what chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said last Friday at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit— that the third wave may have peaked.

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Senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, appearing for the Delhi government along with advocate Satyakam, the Union territory’s additional standing counsel, told a bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad that while a decision on the imposition of the curfew is yet to be taken, it is actively being considered.

New guidelines issued by the home ministry on Wednesday, allowed states and Union territories to impose restrictions such as night curfews to fight the pandemic’s spread. The guidelines also said that state authorities shall not impose any lockdown outside containment zones without consulting the Union government.

The court was hearing a plea by lawyer Rakesh Malhotra seeking an increase in testing in the city. Over the past fortnight (November 13-26) Delhi has conducted an average of 51,244 tests a day, with a dip on weekends and public holidays. The corresponding period in October saw a similar average of 52,818 tests a day. However, during this period in October, of the total tests, 14,307 was conducted using the RT-PCR method, while in the corresponding November period, this went up to 19,680.

On Thursday, for instance, it conducted 63,266 tests, and recorded 5,475 cases — a positivity rate of 8.65%. The Capital has also been increasing the number of RT-PCR tests it conducts. On Thursday, for instance, it conducted 28,897 of these molecular tests which are considered the gold standard in diagnosing Covid-19.

“Lockdowns and night curfews are all secondary measures; what is of key importance in cutting the transmission cycle is making Covid-19 appropriate behavioral changes. It is crucial to wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, observe hand hygiene, and following respiratory etiquettes to keep the infection at bay. There is no alternative to people not behaving properly,” said Jugal Kishore, head, department of community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.

The court also said that the Delhi government should consider setting up a portal where fines for not adhering to social distancing norms can be deposited. It added that weddings should be monitored to ensure the government order of limiting the number of attendees to 50 is being followed.

“How are you enforcing cap on marriage gathering? Are you conducting random check or is there any protocol that you are maintaining? This is the season where several marriages are either going on or are scheduled,” the bench said.

“We cannot allow these wedding parties to become super spreader (events) because this is the season of weddings and similar functions. There should instructions for the banquet halls that if there is one wedding, then they can take only one booking at a time. If there is a partition in the banquet hall where another wedding is conducted, then it would be the violation of your own guidelines.” .

In the course of the hearing, the court sought to know from the Delhi government whether it has adopted any of the steps used by other states faced with a sudden spike in cases. To this, senior advocate Sethi said, “We are considering imposing a night curfew or a weekend lockdown. It is under active consideration”.

The court also criticised the government for acting only after being pushed to. “It is after so much of pushing and prodding that so much has been done. Do you realize how many lives have been lost? What solace is this to those who have lost their near and dear ones?”

The number of deaths in Delhi has soared during the third wave. Over the past fortnight, the average deaths have been 105 a day.

The court asked the Centre why it is yet to respond to the Delhi government’s proposal of shutting down some markets.

During the hearing, the petitioner Malhotra told the court that over 2,200 deaths have taken place in the city from November 1 to November 24. He said that over the past eight months, over 6,562 deaths have taken place in the city due to Covid-19 infections, which is an average of 800 deaths in a month. To date, Delhi has recorded over 551,000 cases.

The court termed the situation “alarming”. It asked the Delhi government to file a further status report detailing the meeting to be conducted with the market associations and the Resident Welfare Associations making them aware of the conditions.

It will next hear the case on December 3.

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