On the day the lockdown was eased further in Delhi, with markets allowed to open fully and the passenger cap lifted from cabs, autos and private vehicles, borders of the national capital were sealed for a week after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed apprehension that city hospitals may get swamped by people from other states in the absence of restrictions.
The announcement, made through a webcast Monday, comes against the backdrop of a rise in coronavirus cases in the city, with numbers swelling from 10,054 on May 18, when several relaxations were announced under Lockdown 4.0, to 19,844 on May 31. Since May 28, the city has recorded more than 1,000 cases a day.
Seeking “guidance”, Kejriwal said a final decision on whether or not beds in hospitals will be reserved for Delhi residents will be taken based on feedback from the public, experts and other stakeholders, for which the government issued helpline numbers. Suggestions will be accepted until June 5.
“Should Delhi’s borders be opened? Corona cases are rising in the city, but I have maintained that it is not a matter of worry as we have invested a lot in beefing up healthcare over the last five years. People from all across the country come to Delhi for their medical treatment because, first, Delhi’s healthcare system is better than the healthcare system of any other state in the country.”
“Second, medical services in government hospitals in Delhi are free of cost. As soon as we open the borders, people from across the country will come to Delhi for better treatment. We have a capacity of 9,500 beds for corona treatment in Delhi hospitals against 2,300 patients today, but all the beds will be occupied in just two-three days if we have an influx of patients from across the country,” Kejriwal said.
He said there are suggestions that borders should be opened but medical treatment in the hospitals should only be available to residents of Delhi. “But how can we do that? Delhi is the national capital of the country and it belongs to all, even to people of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra. How can Delhi deny treatment to all these people now? Some people believe that this practice should be adopted only until corona. We have various suggestions and we need your guidance on what should be done,” he said.
Speaking to India TV later in the day, the Chief Minister said: “Since afternoon, around 2 lakh people have sent us feedback, and overwhelmingly, they say that Delhi government hospitals should be reserved for people of Delhi while the Centre’s hospitals be open to everybody. Only till the pandemic lasts. I am hoping to get more suggestions from people… The worry primarily is what will happen if there is a spike tomorrow? I will have to keep a margin.”
“People in New York, Spain and Italy died because there weren’t enough beds and ventilators to treat patients… The system we have created is enough for Delhi but if we open borders and people from other states start coming to Delhi for treatment, these beds will run out in about two days. We have always welcomed people coming to Delhi for treatment. Dilli dilwalon ki hai. But I am worried about the people of Delhi as well.”
“I have spoken to experts and doctors and the assessment is that the curve in Delhi will start flattening by July end or August beginning,” he said.
In Delhi, out of 19 hospitals treating Covid patients, five come under the Delhi government, four under the Centre, while 10 are private facilities. As of May 31, of the 19,844 cases in Delhi, 10,983 are active. Currently, 2,586 patients are admitted to hospitals and authorities plan to have 9,500 hospital beds for Covid cases by June 5.
An order issued by the Delhi government following Kejriwal’s announcement read: “In view of current public health situation in the NCT of Delhi, inter-state movement of non-residents of Delhi, into the territory of Delhi shall be allowed only on the production of e-passes issued for essential services or in case of emergent circumstances, by authorities or respective state/UT and /or District Magistrates of Delhi. However, government employees shall be allowed on the production of government ID card.”
E-passes will be issued by district magistrates. One can apply for it through the portal https://epass.jantasamvad.org/epass/init/.
The border restrictions will apply only to those coming to Delhi by road, and not via flights or trains. As for those from neighbouring states who have to board flights or trains, a Delhi government spokesperson said they can enter Delhi on producing valid tickets.
On the border sealing, a government official said: “Over the past five days, the number of cases has risen sharply. Now that more relaxations have been given, the number is expected to rise further. In such a situation, stopping people from other states will prevent the case load from becoming unmanageable. Delhi is prepared till the time the number of people requiring hospitalisation does not rise significantly.” Another official said that while capacity was being built in private and government hospitals, “the process does take time”.
Meanwhile, the new set of relaxations announced by the CM include the removal of limit on the number of commuters that can be ferried by autos, e-rickshaws or gramin sewa vehicles. There will also be no cap in case of private cars, and two-wheelers will be allowed to ferry a pillion rider. “The cap was impractical,” Kejriwal said.
The restrictions on non-essential services will now be between 9 pm and 5 am, in line with the latest guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Markets can open in full strength instead of following odd-even, and industries will not have to follow staggered timings anymore. Malls and religious places will continue to remain shut for the time being.