‘Delhi needs to learn from other parts of country, vaccinate more’

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For possible third wave, experts recommend overestimating cases, high-level inquiry on oxygen shortage, focus on mental health among other measures

The Delhi government should pay more attention to happenings in other parts of the country in order to prepare for the potential third COVID wave, experts said, adding that there is a need for better coordination with the Centre and conducting more vaccinations.

They said there should be better genome sequencing of the virus and sharing of its data. When the second wave hit the city, there was an extreme shortage of beds as people oscillated between hospitals. The city also faced a grave oxygen shortage and many people died in hospitals.

‘Did not predict’

The Delhi government had termed the scale of the second wave as “unexpected” and said it did not predict it.

After a peak in November, the cases fell through December and January and the government slowly opened up many healthcare infrastructures for non-COVID treatment. Due to this, the beds used for COVID treatment had reduced.

On many days in April, the vacant beds in the city were only 5-6% of the total capacity and the number of available ICU beds was less than 20. When asked about the challenges, Delhi Medical Council president Arun Gupta said: “The next wave will be unpredictable in many ways when it comes and if it comes. What will be the magnitude? For instance, during the second wave in many countries, the peak was 75% higher than first wave. But in India, it was 320% higher than the first wave. We don’t know who will be affected more.”

Last month, the government formed two committees to prepare for the third wave and also started making predictions about it so that it can be better prepared. Jugal Kishore, head of the community medicine department at Safdarjung Hospital, hailed the government’s move on forming panels. “Health is never limited to one sector, so the committees have to be multi-sector. It also has to involve other departments such as education, water and sanitation. For instance, if there is not enough water supply, people cannot wash their hands to prevent the spread of the virus and children’s mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, so the education department should be part of it,” Dr. Kishore said.

“The government should strengthen Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme [IDSP], which tracks diseases in the society. For instance, data on how many in one colony or village is suffering from a sore throat or having fever should go from the ground-level to the district-level and National Centre for Disease Control [NCDC]. This works strongly in developed countries, but it doesn’t work properly in India,” Dr. Kishore said.

When asked about what the government should be doing, Dr. Gupta said, “Before the second wave, we were under-prepared. Preparing for a third wave, we should overestimate the cases and prepare accordingly. Also, vaccination has to be done on a massive scale.”

The experts said genome sequencing of the virus and sharing of information regarding it should be done more strongly.

“For instance, the variant, which has been now named Delta variant was found in October, but the government didn’t pay much attention. It proved disastrous for us in the second wave. We have to be very vigilant of what is happening in other parts of the country and pick up trends,” Dr. Kishore said.

He said there should be a high-level inquiry on oxygen shortage during the second wave, as it was not seen anywhere else in the world, and accountability should be fixed to avoid it in the future.

IIT Delhi has recommended the government to use GPS data of oxygen tankers to capture real-time delivery and sensor-based, real-time data on oxygen tankers and cylinder hubs, according to government officials.

CM Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday said the government is preparing for the third wave and was gearing up to handle a peak even as high as 37,000 cases per day.


This article was originally published on The Hindu