Cases 331: Night curfew begins, Delhi in huddle over fresh curbs
The night lockdown began in the national capital on Monday as the Covid-19 case count continued to tick upwards with 331 new cases, deepening concerns within the Delhi administration that is deliberating on whether to impose additional restrictions planned under its graded response action plan (Grap).
The number of active cases has now surpassed 1,300 and the test positivity rate has been over 0.5% for two straight days. As on Monday, there were 266 people with Covid-19 admitted to hospitals.
The positivity rate has breached one of the thresholds meant to activate stricter curbs -- which, experts said, would be disproportionate for the current situation -- such as shutting schools and cinema halls, tighter restrictions on how many people can go to a private office, ride a taxi or in the Metro, and which shops can remain open in markets and malls.
Officials aware of the discussions in the government said these restrictions -- part of the first level of curbs classified as Yellow Alert -- have not been taken yet due to economic considerations, but they remain on the table. “The government has already imposed night curfew and restrictions on celebrations have already been imposed. A balance needs to be maintained between curbs for Covid management and the employment and economic interests of people,” a senior official in the government said, asking not to be named.
This person pointed out that most of the existing Covid-19 beds were unoccupied, the active caseload was 1,300 – below the 1,500 active cases for the Yellow Alert threshold – and the positivity rate was under 1%.
A second top government official, asking not to be named, said the government is closely monitoring how the outbreak is unfolding and a decision on further curbs will be taken soon.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) issued detailed order for the night curfew, specifying what activities cannot be carried out and the exemptions that apply. Going for essential services and to buy routine household supplies on foot are some of the activities that can be carried out during the 11pm-5am night curfew hours.
Experts said the current degree of curbs were enough at the moment. Suneela Garg, professor and a member Lancet Commission Covid India Task Force, said: “Since it is not a panic situation yet, no immediate implementation of Grap is not a cause of worry. Delhi’s current Covid situation appears to be under control as of now. The government has already imposed a night curfew and banned New Year celebrations to check the spread of coronavirus. Omicron cases are mild and recovery rate is very high, which is why not enforcing Grap provisions immediately will not lead to long-term harm.”
A DDMA officer, who did not want to be named, said a decision on the Grap measures is likely to be taken on Tuesday after further discussions and monitoring. “Some of the curbs under the ‘Yellow Alert’ may be imposed. It is a developing situation, so saying anything in definite terms is difficult now,” this person said, asking not to be named.
Grap spells out four different levels of economic restrictions that come into force at different levels of positivity rate. The first Yellow Alert comes into force when the positivity rate breaches 0.5% mark and stays above it for two consecutive days, and the highest Red Alert comes into force if positivity rate goes above 5%.
A second expert said the positivity rate metric may not be the correct yardstick to implement strict curbs. “The occupancy of Covid-19 beds is currently negligible. The government should monitor the situation and impose Covid-19 appropriate behaviour among general public strictly which is necessary to check the spread of coronavirus, including Omicron variant,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung hospital.
Chamber of Trade and Industry wrote a letter to DDMA on Monday seeking relief for trade and businesses because the rising Covid cases have raised concerns.
CTI chairman Brijesh Goyal said the restrictions under Yellow Alert should not be immediately implemented because cumulative new positive cases for the last seven days is below 1,500 and beds occupancy is very low. “40 Omicron patients have been cured without oxygen, ICU, steroids and remdesivir and only five patients have shown minor symptoms. It seems that the situation has not worsened yet,” Goyal said. CTI appealed to different trade associations to strictly follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.
Delhi Gym Association vice president Chirag Sethi said the association has approached Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. “The gyms should not be closed under Grap on the basis of the current Covid positivity rate situation because the industry has already suffered a lot during the past few months. DDMA must also consider the total number of cases and the occupancy of oxygen beds in Delhi before imposing further curbs,” Sethi said.