The Capital crossed another grim landmark in its fight against Covid-19, reporting over 5,000 new cases of the disease in a day for the first time on Wednesday. Reporting a record new-case count for the second day in a row, the city added 5,673 new cases of the viral infection on the day, after 4,853 new cases on Tuesday.
On average, Delhi has now reported 4,225 cases every day in the past week, which means the trajectory has now surpassed the previous peak of 4,174, reported for the week ending September 17, at the height of the second surge.
Delhi had seen the first surge in cases in June-July, when 3,446 cases were reported in a day at its peak — the week ending June 26.
Further, the positivity rate also went past 9% on Wednesday for the first time since early September.
“The trend of Covid cases is on a decline across the country. However, it has remained a matter of worry in three states and Union territories. Delhi is inching towards its third peak, while an unprecedented rise is being witnessed in Kerala and West Bengal,” NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul had said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
An expert committee headed by Dr Paul had in early October said the number of cases in Delhi could go up to 15,000 a day during the winter months.
“The consistent rise in cases is bad news. The temperature drop has just started, and pollution levels are also going up, both of which increase the risk of transmission and severity of the infection. Another likely reason is that people went out to shop, for pujas, or for get-togethers during the festive season, and the Covid-appropriate behaviour was not followed,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the department of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Even with more than 60,000 tests conducted on Wednesday, the positivity rate — proportion of samples that returned positive among those tested — crossed 9%, the first time this has happened since the first week of September, when Delhi was conducting only about 20,000 tests a day.
The daily positivity rate had dipped to as low as 4.99% on October 6, soon after the government tripled the testing to about 60,000 a day.
However, when testing was scaled up in September, most diagnoses were conducted using the rapid antigen method, which gives results in 15 minutes,but is more likely to throw up false negatives.
The number of cases in the city started increasing again in the second week of October as the government scaled up the more reliable reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. In fact, over 17,000 RT PCR tests were conducted in the city for the first time on Sunday.
Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain had on Tuesday attributed the rise in positivity rate to better, more targeted contact tracing.
While experts said this could be one of the reasons for the spike in positivity, they also warned that testing needed to be scaled up even further to cover a greater proportion of infected people.
“It may be that the government is now focussing on the contacts of a positive case, hence testing more people who are likely to have the infection. This could be one of the reasons for the increase in positivity rate. However, the government would then have to increase testing further to detect infections among the general population,” said Dr Kant.
Dr Shobha Broor, former head of the department of microbiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) believes that schools must be kept shut, and cinema halls and restaurants, which have been reopened, should also be closed for at least a couple of months.
“There is a need to bring back at least 30 to 40% of the restrictions that were in place during the lockdown if we wish to arrest the increase in the number of cases. A study recently published in the Lancet that looks at such non-pharmaceutical interventions in 121 countries found that shutting down schools and offices can effectively control spread of the infection. So, we need to keep schools and colleges closed. We should also close non-essential services such as cinema hall, restaurants and pubs. I would say even the Metro because people are not following preventive measures there too,” said Dr Broor.