Facing a sharp surge in Covid cases, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Thursday that all private hospitals in the capital will have to reserve 80 per cent of their ICU beds and up to 60 per cent of normal beds for coronavirus patients, and defer non-critical surgeries. Kejriwal also said that the penalty for not wearing masks has been increased four-fold, from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000.
Hours after the announcement, the Health Department issued an order, directing 42 private hospitals to implement the decision, which will lead to an increase of 260 Covid ICU beds. In another order, 90 private hospitals have been asked to reserve 60 per cent of their total bed capacity for Covid patients. Health Minister Satyendar Jain said this will lead to an increase of 2,644 beds.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, meanwhile, advised the Haryana and UP governments to hold a survey of private hospitals in their NCR districts to tackle the crisis.
Addressing a webcast, Kejriwal said that apart from private hospitals, 663 beds will be added in Delhi government hospitals. The central government has also assured “an additional 750 beds in the Centre-run hospitals, which means that we will have around 1,413 additional ICU beds in the next few days in Delhi”, he said.
While announcing the hike in mask penalty, Kejriwal said the decision was taken because “many people” were venturing out without wearing them, putting lives at risk. Delhi has been consistently registering over 7,000 new daily cases, placing severe strain on critical care facilities and healthcare workers.
The decision to direct private hospitals to reserve ICU beds comes after a legal dispute between the Delhi government and the Association of Healthcare Providers (AHPI). The association had challenged the decision, which was first announced on September 12 to reserve 80 per cent ICU beds in 33 private hospitals.
The order was stayed by the Delhi High Court on September 22. Following an appeal by the state government, the stay was vacated on November 12.
“After the Delhi High Court granted permission last week, we had allocated 80 per cent of the ICU beds across 30-32 hospitals for the treatment of Corona patients. This order has today been implemented in all private hospitals in Delhi. This will result in the availability of 300 to 400 more ICU beds. The reservation of non-ICU beds in private hospitals has also been increased from 50 per cent to 60 per cent for a few days. All non-critical planned surgeries will be stalled or postponed for a few days,” Kejriwal said.
When contacted, AHPI Director-General Dr Girdhar Gyani told The Indian Express that the organisation had opposed the move as some of these critical care facilities are engaged in cancer care, kidney and liver transplants, and brain stroke and heart surgery.
“How will a hospital with 40 ICU beds earmark 80 per cent of those beds for Covid patients and the rest for non-Covid patients? In the absence of proper segregation, the remaining 20 per cent beds cannot be used for non-Covid patients. Instead, the government should designate some more private hospitals as Covid facilities and spare some for other life-threatening ailments,” he said.
“The government of India had issued clear instructions in March to not mix Covid and non-Covid patients in the same hospital or wards. We need to enforce that as not doing so is also resulting in further spread of the infection. AHPI is all for using the private sector in full force but would like to follow demarcation/ segregation on logical lines,” Gyani said.
According to the government, only 140 ICU beds with ventilators were vacant Thursday evening, while 319 ICU beds without ventilators were available.
Later Thursday, following an inspection of the DDU Hospital, the Chief Minister told reporters that new ICU beds are yet to be made available by the Centre following an assurance from Union Home Minister Amit Shah during a review meeting on November 15.
“The Home Minister had said that by Monday evening, 250 beds will be provided to us, and another 250 by Tuesday… around 750 ICU beds, 500 beds with ventilators, and 250 beds without ventilators will be allocated to us. We are still waiting,” Kejriwal said.
The Home Ministry, however, said that since the meeting, more than 28,708 RT-PCR tests have been conducted. The Ministry has kept a target of 60,000 RT PCR tests per day by the end of November.
“About 150 ICU beds have been added in the last three days in Delhi. Also, the current capacity of 3,652 ICU beds will be further ramped up. Train coaches with 800 beds at Shakur Basti railway station will become functional now with doctors and paramedics from CAPF to man them,” a Ministry statement said.
It said that 75 doctors and 251 paramedics from the Central Armed Police Forces have reported for duty. Of these, 50 doctors and 175 paramedics have been deployed at Chhatarpur and Shakur Basti Railway Station.
The Ministry said that 500 isolation beds at the Covid care centre at Chhatarpur will be converted to beds with oxygen facility by the weekend.