The Centre and Delhi government on Sunday announced several steps to augment health infrastructure in the national Capital to deal with increasing Covid-19 cases.
After a meeting with Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and others, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the Centre will immediately provide 500 converted rail coaches to the Delhi government.
With this, Delhi will have 8,000 more beds added to its existing number of 9,800 beds for Covid-19 patients, and these will be equipped with all facilities in the treatment of such patients.
Shah, who chaired the meeting, said testing for coronavirus will be doubled in the next two days and increased threefold in six days.
The Centre has also set up a committee, headed by NITI Aayog member V K Paul, to ensure availability of 60 per cent of the beds in private hospitals at lower rates for Covid-19 patients. The committee will also fix rates of coronavirus testing and treatment. It will submit its report on Monday.
In addition to the Centre’s assistance, the Delhi government declared all nursing homes with a bed capacity of 10-49 as Covid facilities. These hospitals have been directed to make Covid beds functional by June 16, a state government order said.
The step has been taken to avoid intermingling of Covid and non-Covid patients in small and medium multispecialty nursing homes and augment the capacity of beds for Covid patients in the city.
According to the state government’s projection, the requirement of beds by June 30 would be around 15,000. It is expected to go up to 33,000 by July 15. Currently, there are over 9,800 beds for Covid patients in Delhi.
Sunday’s meeting was held a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s instructions to Shah, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and others to undertake ‘emergency planning’ in the country’s worst affected states and urban centres, particularly the Capital.
On Friday, the Supreme Court had rapped the Delhi government over the “horrendous, horrified, and pathetic” situation in the national Capital.
At the meeting, Shah said in order to reduce the waiting time currently being taken in handing over bodies of those dying of Covid-19, the Centre will issue fresh guidelines regarding last rites of the deceased.
The Union home minister said the Centre will enrol services of Scouts & Guides, NCC (National Cadet Corps), NSS (National Service Scheme) and other voluntary organisations as volunteers with health services.
Shah ordered house-to-house surveys for contact mapping in the 241 containment zones of Delhi and access to testing facilities at polling booths of these containment zones. He said the survey report will be available within a week. For effective monitoring, all residents will be asked to download Aarogya Setu app on their mobile phones.
At present, the national transporter has got demands from Delhi, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh (UP) for its isolation coaches. “In UP, 24 locations have been identified with 10 coaches to be allocated in each of the areas,” said a Railways official.
Though the Railways had already readied 5,231 Covid care centres in April, it had asked the zones to take back 60 per cent of the coaches, following no demand from the states.
As an initial phase to the allotment, around 250 coaches are likely to be deployed at Anand Vihar, Old Delhi, Safdarjung, Sarai Rohilla, and Nizamuddin stations starting from Sunday onwards. At present, only 10 isolation coaches with 160 beds are stationed at Shakurbasti. Shah is also likely to hold a meeting with the Mayors of Delhi, top state government, and the Railways officials.
Apart from the 500 coaches, it has been ordered to provide to the Delhi government, the Railways has earmarked 215 stations for deploying isolation coaches.
Telangana has asked for coaches to be stationed in three locations — Secunderabad, Kachiguda, and Adilabad.
The Railways said that the coaches can be used for very mild cases that can be clinically assigned to the Covid care centres, according to the guidelines issued by the government.
“These coaches can be used in areas where the state has exhausted the facilities and needs to augment capacities for isolation of both suspect and confirmed Covid cases. These facilities are part of the integrated Covid plan developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and NITI Aayog,” the Railways said in a statement.
Not just demand from the states, sources indicate that another reason for the delay in deployment of the coaches came after concerns raised by the Aayog in April.
The planning body had raised concerns that usage of these non-air conditioned coaches during the summer season will be difficult, especially in North India during the time of heatwave when temperatures breach 45 degrees Celsius.
After this, the Railways came out with a plan to repaint the coaches with solar-reflective coating to bring down the temperature by at least 3-5 degrees Celsius. However, sources indicate these were for only a few coaches and the concern of higher temperature is still there.
In its other decisions, the Centre has set up a committee of senior doctors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences to communicate ‘best practices’ in the fight against Covid and effective transmission of guidelines and information to clinics and minor hospitals in Delhi. A helpline number on telephonic guidance will be set up and released on Monday.
The Centre also deputed five more senior officers to the Delhi government to help it deal with the pandemic. A joint team comprising doctors with the Union government, Delhi government, and its civic authorities will visit all Covid hospitals in Delhi and submit a report after inspecting the health infrastructure and preparedness for treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Shah also called an ‘all-party meeting’ on Monday to review the situation in Delhi.