Delhi high court warns of deadly third wave
- A bench of justices Navin Chawla and Asha Menon said that if the flouting of the norms continued, the expected third wave may “hasten” its pace and “God help us if all that happens!”.
The Delhi high court on Friday took note of crowding and violations in Covid-19 protocols in markets and public spaces across the national capital, and sounded a dire warning -- the city will be in “great trouble” in the wake of an anticipated third wave of the pandemic.
A bench of justices Navin Chawla and Asha Menon said that if the flouting of the norms continued, the expected third wave may “hasten” its pace and “God help us if all that happens!”.
They were pointing to a devastating second wave in which daily infections peaked at 28,395 on April 20, and 448 deaths were recorded on May 3. “We have paid a huge price in the second wave. We don’t know if there is any household which has not suffered in the second wave, closely or remotely,” the bench said. “We as a citizen of this city are worried when we see these images... Such breach will only hasten the third wave, which is likely to come and this cannot be permitted.”
The runaway outbreak in April — the worst the city has seen in over a year of the pandemic — forced people to scramble from hospital to hospital for beds, essentials and life-saving drugs, while bodies piled up in crematoriums that were running out of space. The situation eased in early May as the Delhi government imposed a lockdown from April 19, and the state and central governments scaled up health facilities.
The court, while taking note of the photographs sent to one of the high court judges on WhatsApp by an AIIMS doctor showing complete disregard of the Covid-19 protocols by street vendors in markets, initiated a suo moto Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and sought to know the stand of the authorities.
It told the Centre and the Delhi government to take strict measures, sensitise shopkeepers, and hold meetings with markets and vendors associations. It asked the Delhi government and Delhi police to file status reports by July 9 in this regard.
Markets and shops have been allowed to open for two weeks now, at first only in a 50% arrangement before the restrictions were eased further on June 14. Since then, photographs from several typically popular markets have shown increasing amount of footfall.
Ashok Randhawa, president of the Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Traders’ Association, said that the market appointed 28 volunteers on Friday for additional monitoring and enforcement of protocols. “Following a meeting with police officials on Thursday, we have recruited 28 uniformed volunteers who will go around the market to ensure all rules are being followed. We have created physical distancing markers outside all shops and are also providing masks to visitors if they don’t have one,” he said.
Sucheta Sharma, who visited a Vasant Kunj mall earlier this week, said she wanted a breather after months of staying cooped in. “I came here to shop for my nephew whose birthday is around the corner. So far, the crowd doesn’t seem a lot and SOPs are also being followed. The footfall might, however, increase in the coming days since people are tired of sitting at home,” said Sharma.
Appearing for the Centre, standing counsel Anil Soni and Delhi government’s additional standing counsel Gautam Narayan told the court that all efforts will be made to rectify the situation. The high court said government officials and bureaucrats must apply their minds to normalise the lives of Delhi residents with compliance to all the protocols as “we cannot have a lockdown always”.
“People cannot be stopped from doing their jobs since it’s about their livelihoods, but they have to follow the protocols strictly because if they catch the infection, they will take it home and spread further,” the court said. “Even otherwise people cover their faces in summers to protect themselves from the heat wave and wearing a mask is not an extraordinary discomfort,” it added.
The bench also said that photographs received from an AIIMS doctor (they did not name him) were mainly of the street vendors, and so the market associations should ensure those standing in the vicinity wear masks.
“It can be in the form of more interactions with market and vendors associations and more civil defence and police personnel being deployed at markets and hawking places,” the court said.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, for the Centre, said that “we cannot afford a third wave, just cannot have a third wave” and assured the court that all steps will be taken.
The Delhi government counsel said there have been more shocking photographs of malls where people can be seen violating the coronavirus norms, and it was not only small vendors do not adhere to protocol.
Several European countries entered a third wave of outbreak in the spring as cases fell during a period of winter lockdowns that covered much of the West. These nations were forced back into curbs.
A third wave is also now building in the UK due to an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which spreads significantly faster than the Alpha variant that was previously predominant in the country.