Battling the surge in coronavirus cases in Delhi on a war-footing, the Aam Aadmi Party government on Thursday announced sweeping measures including a steep Rs 2,000 fine for not wearing masks, reservation of 80 per cent ICU beds in private hospitals, doubling testing centres in every district and postponement of non-critical surgeries at health facilities.
Private hospitals have also been directed to increase the percentage of non-ICU COVID-19 beds from 50 per cent to 60 per cent.
The government will increase the number of RT-PCR test to 27,000 a day in the national capital and MBBS students and interns will be engaged to tackle the COVID-19 situation.
Earlier in the day, the Delhi high court rapped the AAP government, asking it if it could explain to those who had lost their near and dear ones to COVID-19 in the last 18 days why the administration did not take steps when cases were spiralling in the city.
The court also asked the government to look at the situation with a "magnifying glass".
Addressing an online media briefing, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the fine for not wearing masks has been raised from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000.
The hard line by the AAP government comes days after Kejriwal repeatedly appealed to Delhiites to wear masks amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
He announced the slew of measures after meeting Lt Governor Anil Baijal and apprising him about the decisions taken by the Aam Aadmi Party government.
He also appealed to political, social and religious organisations to distribute masks among people saying masks very much reduce the chances of coronavirus infection.
Arrangements are being made for over 1,400 ICU beds, including 663 in Delhi government hospitals and 750 at a central government facility, Kejriwal said, adding around 7,500 normal and 446 ICU beds are currently available for COVID-19 patients in Delhi.
"From today we have implemented the decision to reserve 80 percent ICU beds in all private hospitals for COVID-19 patients. It will increase ICU bed availability by 300-400 for coronavirus patients in Delhi hospitals."
The percentage of normal, non-ICU beds reserved in private hospitals for corona patients, are being increased from 50 per cent to 60 per cent till the peak of the pandemic is there, he said.
Hospitals have also been asked to postpone non-critical planned surgeries for the time being, he added.
The national capital has witnessed a spurt in coronavirus cases since October 28, when the daily rise breached the 5,000-mark for the first time, and it crossed the 8,000-mark on November 11.
On Wednesday, the infection tally in Delhi rose to over 5 lakh with 7,486 fresh cases reported, while 131 new fatalities, the highest single-day death count till date, took the toll to 7,943.
On Thursday, the Union health ministry said that Delhi accounted for 22.39 per cent of the fatalities reported across the country in a span of 24 hours by recording 131 deaths and became the largest contributor to the single-day COVID-19 deaths in India.
Even in terms of new single-day cases, Delhi reported the highest number of infections, followed by Kerala and Maharashtra.
According to Kejriwal, he received assurance of cooperation from various political parties at an all-party meeting on the COVID-19 situation held in Delhi.
He said that he urged them to distribute face masks to save people from the infection.
After the meeting, ruling AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj said that the Delhi government will increase the number of RTPCR tests conducted daily from around 18,000 to 27,000 and the chief minister will also meet market associations if any decision is taken on shutting down markets.
Bharadwaj said he suggested that market associations should be given a chance to present their views and take precautionary measures to check the spread of the virus.
Kejriwal also appealed to the people not to celebrate Chhath puja at ponds and other water bodies, saying it could cause a widespread infection.
"Even if one COVID-19 infected person enters the water during Chhath Puja, all others might get infected by the virus," he said, adding his government is being forced to restrict Chhath Puja celebrations at river banks, ponds and other public places due to the threat of the infection.
Lauding doctors and government employees for COVID-19 management in Delhi, he said, "I want to thank all the doctors and employees of the government for their hard work and a well thought out COVID-19 management that was seen not even in advanced countries and big cities."
There were reports and videos of COVID-19 patients lying outside hospitals due to unavailability of beds in New York, Sweden, France and Italy. However, our doctors and medical staff did a remarkable work even as number of cases reached up to 8500 last week, he said.
"We need to boost the morale of our doctors and nurses and pat them on their backs for their commendable service."
Meanwhile, the Delhi government directed all district magistrates to take steps to double the number of testing centres in their respective districts immediately.
The order issued by the Delhi health department also said that manpower required for the new testing centres "may be hired from open market, if required".
It has been observed that the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing in Delhi and "to ensure early detection and subsequent isolation of the COVID-19 infected patients, it is felt necessary to enhance the COVID-19 testing capacity", the order said.
During a hearing, the Delhi high court on Thursday said the rate at which the number of COVID-19 positive cases was rising, the AAP government should have been alive to the fact that testing through Rapid Antigen method was not serving the purpose and the answer lay in increasing RTPCR tests.
Authorities in the city have allowed all coronavirus facilities of the government here to engage MBBS students in fourth and fifth years, interns and others to assist doctors on duty at a fixed honorarium.
Meanwhile, the number of available ICU beds equipped with ventilators is shrinking fast at several hospitals here, with zero vacancy at nearly 60 facilities.
According to the online Corona dashboard of the Delhi government at 12:30 pm on Thursday, only 131 COVID-19 ICU beds were available out of 1,362 such beds at various facilities here.
There was no vacancy at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, Max hospital's facilities at Saket, Patparganj and Shalimar Bagh, Batra hospital, Fortis hospital's facilities at Shalimar Bagh and Vasant Kunj and Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, and Venkateshwara Hospital in Dwarka, among others, as per the data.
The RGSSH, a dedicated coronavirus facility under the Delhi government, has 200 ICU beds with ventilators, all occupied, while at the LNJP Hospital, another dedicated facility, only seven such beds were available out of 200 at 12:30 pm.
The high court on Thursday noted that imposition of fines, for violating COVID-19 norms like social distancing and wearing masks, was proportionately small in areas where the number of coronavirus cases are on the rise.
On Wednesday, the Centre said that the Railways will be providing coaches with 800 beds. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Wednesday reverted to the earlier cap of 50 guests at marriage functions instead of 200 allowed through its October 31 order.