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India locks down New Delhi as Covid cases soar

Chief minister warns that the capital's health system is under stress and in danger of collapsing
India locks down New Delhi as Covid cases soar

People make their way along a street in the old quarters of New Delhi on April 19 as India's capital prepares to impose a week-long lockdown. (Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP)

Published: April 19, 2021 10:19 AM GMT
Updated: April 19, 2021 11:45 AM GMT

Alarmed by the surge in Covid-19 cases, authorities have decided to lock down India's national capital New Delhi for a week.

“We have no other option … If we do not implement a lockdown in Delhi now, our healthcare infrastructure will collapse,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a televised message.

During the six-day lockdown from April 19 evening to the morning of April 26, all essential services will be available, he said.

The city of 30 million people registered a record 25,462 new cases and 161 deaths on April 18 to continue a trend of sharp daily increases since last month.

"Delhi’s health system has been stretched to its limit and is under stress now. If we do not resort to some harsh measures, things may collapse,” Kejriwal said.

The decision was taken at a meeting Kejriwal had with Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, the federal government’s representative in the capital.

The bigger worry is that in the last 24 hours positive rates of Covid-19 have increased to about 30 percent from 24 percent

Kejriwal said that fewer than 100 intensive care unit beds are available in hospitals in the capital.

The lockdown comes amid reports of a shortage of oxygen and key medicines such as the anti-viral Remdesivir in government and privately operated hospitals.

The city government on April 18 sought the federal government’s intervention to meet "the dire need of beds and oxygen.”

"The bigger worry is that in the last 24 hours positive rates of Covid-19 have increased to about 30 percent from 24 percent," Kejriwal told journalists on April 18.

Manmohan Singh, former prime minister and a leader of the opposition Congress party, sent a letter to PM Narendra Modi seeking “immediate attention to the serious problem.”

Singh, who as PM handled India's economic crisis in 2008, advised Modi to invest in the vaccination campaign.

Kejriwal in his broadcast said those engaged in essential services will be exempted from the lockdown. These include government officials, police, health workers, pregnant women and other patients, people traveling to and from airports, railway stations, electronic and print media.

During the 2020 lockdown, India's capital witnessed the unprecedented movement of migrant workers back to their native villages on foot as they lost jobs and lacked basic necessities like food and accommodation.

This time around, the chief minister has appealed to the migrant workforce not to leave the city.

"This is only a mini and short lockdown. Do not panic and do not leave the city," Kejriwal said.

"I know that when lockdowns are announced, daily wage workers suffer and lose their jobs. But I appeal to you not to leave the city. We will take care of you."

Overall, the nationwide situation has deteriorated in India. Officials confirmed 1,620 deaths from the virus on April 18.

India, which has been holding elections in five large provinces and festivals like Kumbh, has been reporting more than 200,000 cases daily since April 14-15. The peak of positive cases last year was only about 93,000.

Things have now taken a gory turn

Social workers and medical experts blame people's negligence, socializing in large numbers without masks, and authorities including the federal government ignoring warnings of a second wave.

"It is sad. Nobody seemed to care. The Modi government and his party regime in Uttarakhand allowed a massive Hindu festival congregation of millions on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar for a holy dip. The virus started spreading everywhere," said social worker Naushad Mofidul Chowdhury.

But others also said people were also to be blamed along with the authorities in smaller towns and poll-bound states.

"India began 2021 on a positive note with vaccines coming in. But large-scale negligence prevailed. Things have now taken a gory turn," said political analyst Ramakanto Shanyal in West Bengal, where three rounds of polling are yet to be held.

Maharashtra, India's most industrialized state that houses the country's commercial hub and cash-rich entertainment capital Mumbai, is enforcing a curfew-like situation from April 14 to May 1.

Similar restrictions and night curfews have been imposed in various provinces and cities.

In poll-bound West Bengal, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has canceled all his rallies while the communists have resorted to radio campaigning for the next three rounds of polling.

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