Covid-19 and a tale of two cities

Thiruvananthapuram goes into triple lockdown, while national capital Delhi may face plasma shortage

keralaImage: Reuters

This was, perhaps, one of the most high profile inaugurations of a Covid-19 medical facility in Delhi. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Delhi Chief Minister Aravind Kejriwal have all visited, inspected, inaugurated the DRDO-built 1,000-bed coronavirus hospital in the latest Covid-19 related development in the national Capital. Also present were Minister of State for Home Shri G.Kishan Reddy, and DRDO Chairman Shri G.Satheesh Reddy.

Christened the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel Covid-19 Hospital, this is the biggest facility of its kind, and has been built in a record 11 days. This newly-setup medical facility  has 1000 beds, including 250 ICU beds. This has raised the capacity of the available beds in Delhi by 11%.

Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah thanked the DRDO, Tatas and the Armed Forces Medical personnel who he said “have risen to the occasion and helped tackle the emergency.” He added that “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is fully committed to helping the people of Delhi in these challenging times and this Covid hospital is yet again, highlights this resolve.”

According to the Central government’s publicity statements available on the Press Information Bureau, “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah held a series of meetings since 14th June to review Covid-19 management and ways to tackle it in Delhi-NCR.” Then it adds the Home Minister announced a number of crucial decisions such as, “reducing COVID treatment rates to one third in Delhi’s private hospitals; providing 20,000 additional beds, increasing testing by using Rapid Antigen Kits, Re-demarcation of containment zones, Contact tracing of infected persons with the help of  Arogya Setu and Ithas App and providing Covid telemedicine to the patients by expert doctors of AIIMS.”

It goes on to detail how the DRDO was asked to design, develop, and make the facility operational “on a war footing.” Land near the New Delhi Domestic Terminal T1 was identified after  permission from the Indian Air Force. The centrally air-conditioned medical facility is spread over 25,000 sqm, each of its 250 ICU beds. is equipped with a ventilator. “The infrastructure is built with negative internal pressure gradient for safe contagion containment. The facility has been engineered using rapid fabrication technique based on octanorm modules,” stated the PIB. 

The hospital will be operated by medical teams from the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) while the facility will be maintained by DRDO. The also has a dedicated DRDO managed psychological counselling centre. Patients will be referred by the District Administration and treated free of cost. However, critical cases will be referred to AIIMS. According to the government information the project has been funded “with major contribution of Tata Sons. Other contributors are M/s BEL, M/s BDL, AMPL, Sri Venkateswara Engineers, Brahmos Pvt Ltd, Bharat Forge,” even  DRDO employees contributed one day’s salary.

The hospital also has accommodation for doctors and nurses on duty. Patient facilities include “Oxygen Supply to each bed, X-Ray, ECG, Haematological test facilities, Ventilators, Covid Test Lab, Wheel Chairs, Stretchers and other medical equipment. DRDO developed COVID-19 technologies productionised by the Industry in the last 3 months such as Ventilators, Decontamination Tunnels, PPEs, N95 Masks, Contact-Free Sanitiser Dispensers, Sanitisation Chambers and Medical Robots Trolleys will be utilised at the facility.”

While the Union Government shared many details as it inaugurated the facility. The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “For now, there is no scarcity of hospital beds, we have over 15,000 beds out of which 5300 are occupied.” However, he added that  was still “a paucity of ICU beds. If there is any spike in COVID cases, these ICU beds are very critical for us.” Of course he was grateful for the DRDO’s Coronavirus hospital. 



He has gone on to put on record that Delhi has reported around 97000 cases and has a over 70% ‘recovery rate’ as 68256 patients have been cured and the number of hospitalized patients has gone down from 6200 to 5300.

However doctors themselves have stated that this  Recovery Rate may not be the best indicator of progress as  “Less than 5% die of Covid. So the recovery rate will be > 95% it’s just a matter of time.”



The uphill task, said the CM is to now arrange for adequate plasma from those who have recovered from Covid-19. He admitted that that there was a paucity of donors and the demand at the plasma bank was massive. If donors do not come forth and give plasma, chances are that the existing stock will run out completely, even in the recently inaugurated plasma bank, said the CM. A warning announcement that has so far been lost in the din of the ‘celebrations’ around the new hospital. 



Social distancing too remains more of the myth in the national capital as most marketplaces, and other public spaces remain crowded. “What can we do? People just do not listen,” said a senior employee at the Head Post Office at ITO in the middle of the city, where the crowded line spilled out into the corridor, and face masks were either missing or not worn correctly. No one batted an eye as someone even spat in the open. 

“The borders are open as the markets are back to normal,” said a commuter who came from Gurgaon (Haryana) and was headed to Sahibabad (Uttar Pradesh). Sharing what he saw, “So many people are not wearing masks and there is no checking of the crowds.” A quick drive around the city on any evening will make you wonder if Coronavirus has left the NCR. 

On the other end of the country, a week-long ‘triple lockdown’ has begun in Kerala’s Capital Thiruvananthapuram. On Sunday, Malayalam media reported that the state’s tourism minister said K Surendran, the state’s tourism minister, said the district was ‘’sitting on an active volcano’’ with a rising number of Covid-19 cases.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times the minister has added that “there was no guarantee that there would be no community spread.” This was perhaps the first time a minister has admitted to that anywhere in India. “During triple lockdown, there will be more restrictions. Only necessary services will be allowed,” Surendran was quoted by the media. “There will be no public transportation. Only medical other essential shops and hospitals will function,” he said adding that action will be taken against those who venture out unnecessarily.

The state police chief Loknath Behera was quoted by HT as saying that all the roads leading to the city would be closed and only essential services vehicles will be allowed to ply. “The state secretariat and other government offices will remain closed,” he said.

There are 5,427 Covid-19 cases in Kerala and 27 people have succumbed to the disease so far.

By contrast, Delhi has reported 63 deaths in the last 24 hours. On Sunday the city had 2,244 fresh infections. By Monday night the number may well cross 100,000. 




Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported that 239 scientists from 32 countries have written to the WHO to revise its orders and stated that there was now  evidence that smaller particles can infect people. They have asked the WHO to revise its recommendations that “coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.”



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