Delhi is in the middle of a serious public health crisis. Covid-19 has passed through various stages in the National Capital over the last nine months — but the third wave has happened amidst a predictable set of factors. Winter is more hospitable for the virus; festivities have enhanced mass interactions; there has been — bluntly put — reckless behaviour on the part of citizens, either due to fatigue or complacency; testing tilted towards the quick antigen tests rather than the more reliable RT-PCR mechanism, which undermined the ability to track and isolate cases; and the poor air quality hasn’t helped. All of this has led to a consistent spike in cases, with the Delhi government deeply worried about the management of the disease.
It is against this backdrop that the Centre’s intervention — led by home minister Amit Shah — has infused a greater sense of urgency. To the credit of both governments, even though there was some jostling over who deserves greater appreciation, the Centre and Delhi government worked well together in dealing with the enhanced number of cases in the past. Mr Shah has now taken a spate of decisions, from improving medical infrastructure and enhancing hospital beds for patients with severe symptoms to doubling testing (it is important that the greater ratio of tests are RT-PCR and not antigen tests) and closer monitoring of those in home isolation. There are also murmurs of a partial reimposition of restrictions — though not a lockdown — in Delhi if the case count continues on the same trajectory.
All of this is essential. But at the core, while the government has do its bit and ensure greater testing to track cases and adequate infrastructure to save lives, there is a great responsibility on citizens. As repetitive as this may sound, there is no alternative to limiting movement to essential activities, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and washing hands. This must happen voluntarily for both self-preservation and collective good. It is quite staggering to see people act against their self-interest. And if this persists, restrictions will inevitably come into force with great costs for the economy and livelihoods yet again. The Centre has done well to step in; the Delhi government must take all the help it can get and focus on implementing decisions under its remit; and citizens must reform their behaviour or be ready for more disruption.