NEW DELHI - Delhi has set up one of the world's largest Covid-19 care facilities, hoping to reinforce its loosening grip on a worrying outbreak of the disease in the city.
The makeshift facility, expected to be fully operational later this week, has 10,000 beds and covers an area of nearly 1.25 million sq ft, equivalent to 16 football fields.
The number of cases has climbed rapidly in the capital since the beginning of June, when the countrywide lockdown imposed in March was relaxed. While it had fewer than 21,000 cases at the beginning of the month, these had doubled to more than 42,000 by June 15. The current tally stands at 83,077, making it the worst-hit city in the country.
With one estimate suggesting that the number of Covid-19 cases in Delhi could touch 550,000 by the end of July, the need to augment treatment and isolation facilities has become a key priority.
The newly opened facility will have oxygen support for around 10 per cent of beds and is mainly aimed at isolating those mildly ill. The facility is being managed by paramilitary personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and includes foldable iron cot beds or those manufactured using cardboard. It has been set up on a property that belongs to Radha Soami Satsang Beas, a spiritual organisation.
The Defence Research & Development Organisation and Tata Trust are, meanwhile, also finishing a 1,000-bed, air-conditioned facility near the airport which includes 250 intensive care beds. Authorities in Delhi have augmented the number of beds in recent weeks by adopting a number of strategies, including dedicating certain hospitals entirely to Covid-19 and requisitioning banquet halls and hotels, as well as railway coaches.
In a video statement issued on June 27, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal acknowledged that patients had been shunted from one hospital to another because of the lack of beds at the start of June but said the situation had vastly improved . He said the city has a current capacity of 13,500 beds, of which only 6,000 are occupied.
But Ms Malini Aisola, a volunteer with a patient support group that has been helping patients access hospital care during the pandemic, told The Straits Times that families of patients continue to face problems because of poor information about the availability of beds under subsidised rates at private hospitals. The Delhi government had last week made it mandatory for private hospitals to offer 60 per cent of their bed capacity for Covid-19 treatment at rates fixed by the government.
"There is basic information about the total number of beds and occupants on government platforms but it is not adequately disaggregated. Details of how many beds are available in each category (such as isolation, ICU with and without ventilator) under fixed rates or free is missing," she said, which has led to cases where patients have been misguided into signing consent forms to be charged the full hospital rates.
Many feel that Delhi has seen a surge in cases because of poor contact tracing, lack of healthcare workers and conflicting orders from the state and federal governments, among other reasons. Dr Mahesh Chandra Misra, the former director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, said people who had returned from overseas in March were "let loose" in big cities such as Delhi with poor tracing.
"We let people move out on their own with just a stamp on the back of their hand," he told The Straits Times. "We can contain the pandemic only if the clusters are now handled sincerely with more precision, more resources and more monitoring."
The authorities in Delhi last week said they will survey the city's entire 29 million population, with officials visiting each household to record residents' health details and administering a Covid-19 test to those with symptoms. This massive exercise was expected to be completed by July 6 but ANI, a news agency, quoted federal government officials on Monday to say that this has been put off so that a screening can first be done in all containment zones, which will then be followed by one for the entire city. Testing has also been ramped up from 5,000 tests daily at the beginning of the month to more than 20,000 daily now.
While the availability of beds in Delhi has improved, lack of blood plasma has emerged as a key concern. Plasma therapy involves sourcing plasma from a patient who has recovered from Covid-19 and then administering it to a patient with the same blood group to help speed his or her recovery.
Many family members of Covid-19 patients in recent weeks have taken to social media in a desperate bid to seek donors, prompting some civil society organisations like Charity Beds to step in and coordinate plasma recipients and donors. "But amid the rising demand for donors, the work of a few organisations to find donors has not been enough," Mr Gagan D. Bharti, the manager of Charity Beds, told The Straits Times.
Following growing demands, the Delhi government announced the creation of a blood plasma bank on Monday. Welcoming the decision, Mr Bharti said the database should be maintained according to different geographical zones so that donors do not have to go too far amid the pandemic.