Daily tests to climb to 18,000 as Amit Shah holds all-party meet

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Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday urged all parties in Delhi to work together to stop the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) from stalking the city, and discussed plans to ramp up testing to 18,000 by June 20, even as chief minister Arvind Kejriwal denied there were plans to reimpose a complete lockdown .

Shah chaired an all-party meet to discuss augmenting the Capital’s health care infrastructure, a day after the senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader held separate meetings with Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Anil Baijal to chalk out a road map to tackle the pandemic.

Leaders of the BJP, which is in power at the Centre, and Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) resolved to bury political differences in the battle against the outbreak, with Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta and the AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh saying the number of daily tests will be increased to 18,000 by the end of the week.

Fewer samples have been tested for Covid-19 in Delhi over the past few days, with the number falling from an average of about 7,000 samples at the end of May to about 5,000 samples last week. Baijal recently issued an order that struck down the Delhi government’s decision to keep high-risk asymptomatic people out of the scope of testing in Delhi.

Another order by the Delhi L-G last week overturned Kejriwal’s announcement to reserve beds in private and state government hospitals for local residents, a move that was seen as a potential flashpoint between the Centre and the Delhi government.

“Political differences must be forgotten and all parties must work together for the people of Delhi. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we should all work together to fight this pandemic,” Shah said after Monday’s meeting.

“Political unity will create confidence among the public and lead to improvement in the pandemic situation in the Capital. We have to improve Covid-19 testing capacity with newer techniques,” he added. Shah also asked the parties to mobilise their cadres and assist in implementing the decisions taken by the Centre and Delhi government.

While AAP MP Singh said all parties decided to keep politics aside, Gupta added that a central team will give a report on the capping of charges at private hospitals, following which action will be taken to control “arbitrary” pricing. The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also attended the meeting, which was held at the North Block.

On Sunday, the home minister announced a series of steps that included aggressive testing and the formation of two committees, aimed at augmenting health care infrastructure, possibly capping treatment costs in private hospitals, and effective containment of Covid-19 in the national capital.

The developments come ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s consultations with chief ministers on Tuesday and Wednesday on ways to control the spread of the virus as India gradually exits a national lockdown necessitated by the outbreak.

Delhi recorded 1,647new Covid-19 cases on Monday, taking the tally to about 43,000, while the death toll mounted to 1,400. Even as the number of daily cases remained high, Kejriwal rejected speculation that the Capital will return to a complete lockdown to slow the spread of the infectious disease, which has so far killed about 9,500 people in India.

“Many people are speculating whether another lockdown in Delhi in being planned. There are no such plans,” the Delhi CM tweeted.

The Delhi CM’s assertion came on a day the Tamil Nadu government announced that a lockdown will be reimposed from Friday on about 15 million people in Chennai and neighbouring districts. The state is the second worst-affected hot spot of the pathogen after Maharashtra.

Speaking to reporters after the all-party meeting in Delhi, Singh said that a Covid-19 test which will cost around ~450 was being considered for the Capital. “It has been decided that 1,900 beds in state government hospitals, 2,000 beds in central government hospitals and 1,078 beds in private hospitals will be added for Covid-19 patients,” he said.

Singh added that 500 train coaches that will act as isolation wards will be provided by the Indian Railways for 8,000 patients. The number of coaches will be increased to 1,000 in the coming days, taking the capacity to 16,000 Covid-19 patients, he added.

The AAP government has issued directions to ramp up Delhi’s hospital bed capacity by 20,000 by June 20.Chief minister Kejriwal recently said Delhi will need 150,000 Covid-19 beds by July 31, factoring in outstation patients who may travel to the city for treatment.

Newly appointed Delhi BJP chief Gupta said Shah discussed door-to-door tracing and mapping of risk in all containment zones of Delhi. “The BJP demanded that 50% charges be waived off on testing. This demand has been approved by Union home minister Amit Shah,” he said. A meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority is scheduled on June 16, where this issue is likely to be discussed.

“In this hour of crisis, we should fight against the pandemic together instead of trading charges,” the Delhi BJP chief said after the meeting.

In Telangana, the cost of conducting a Covid-19 test at private labs was fixed at ~2,200 on Monday and the fee for treatment of the disease in corporate hospitals at ~4,000 per day. The charge for treatment of patients in intensive care units without ventilator support was fixed at ~7,500 per day, while it would be ~9,000 per day for those who are on such support.

Delhi Congress president Anil Chaudhary said he raised the issue of surging numbers of Covid-19 patients in Delhi, holding the BJP-ruled Centre and the AAP government in Delhi responsible for it. “The meeting was an exercise in mutual praise by both the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party, though both the Central and Delhi governments have failed miserably in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. This meeting should have been held 84 days ago, on March 23 when the lockdown was implemented,” he said.

Shortly after the meeting at the Union home ministry, Shah visited the LNJP Hospital to review the Covid-19 preparedness. He met senior doctors, who briefed him about the number of patients treated at the facility, fatalities and admissions from outside Delhi.

The Union home minister directed the Delhi chief secretary to install CCTV cameras in Covid-19 wards of every designated hospital in the national capital for proper monitoring, and set up alternative canteens for uninterrupted supply of food to the patients.

“The Union minister interacted with doctors and medical staff and motivated them. He scrutinised the infrastructure and medical facilities in the hospital. For the last 10 days, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been taking stock of all arrangements in LNJP Hospital. He has been monitoring all the grievances and issues highlighted and ensured that they are resolved immediately. Today’s successful visit of the Union minister was an endorsement of the better facilities in LNJP Hospital,” a spokesperson of the Delhi government said.

The Delhi government has directed all laboratories and hospitals to work at full capacity and ramp up Covid-19 testing capacity. In an order issued on Sunday, Delhi health secretary Padmini Singla called for the processing of all samples within 48 hours. “There is no upper limit to send samples to private sector labs, provided they undertake to process the same within the stipulated time frame, that is 24 hours (preferably) and maximum within 48 hours,” the order said.

On Monday, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain said laboratory facilities under the Centre in the national capital were also being extended to the Delhi government. “As far as increasing of testing capacity is concerned, in Delhi most of the lab facilities are under the Centre, so those are being extended to us,” he said.

Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said: “There is a great deal of politics happening right now in Delhi over Covid-19, which ideally shouldn’t happen.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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