Indian capital faces shortage of ICU beds as COVID cases spike

Indian capital faces shortage of ICU beds as COVID cases spike

New Delhi, India – “I wouldn’t have ventured out from home until this pandemic is over,” says 50-year-old Ishrat Hussain. “But I’ve to feed my family.”

Hussain, a father of four, sells vegetables from a cart in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where daily COVID-19 infections have seen a spike in the recent weeks.

“Before leaving home in the morning, I strictly tell my children not to go out unnecessarily,” he said, adding that he fears every day while at work.

“I don’t take off my mask for a minute while I’m at work because I do not want to get this infection and spread it to my family. After months, we thought things will get normal now but they are getting worse.”

On Thursday, the authorities said New Delhi has recorded 5,475 fresh COVID-19 cases and 91 deaths, pushing the city’s death toll to 8,811.

Curfew considered

The city government led by Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) told the Delhi High Court on Thursday it was “actively considering” night-time curfew among other steps to tackle the surge in the cases.

Ishrat, who sells vegetable, is worried amid the sharp rise in infections [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]The government’s response came after the court questioned it on the measures being taken to control the spike in daily cases.

The city is recording more cases a day than any other state, staying above 5,000 a day over the last week. Its total case count has already surpassed the half-million mark.

While 131 COVID-related deaths were recorded on November 18, the highest to date, New Delhi registered its highest single-day spike of 8,593 cases on November 11.

“The situation is worrisome because of its strain on the health system, and requires concerted policy intervention to manage the current burden, and prevent a further increase in number of cases,” said Dr Anant Bhan, a researcher at Global Health, Bioethics and Health Policy.

Bhan said the spike in the number of cases in New Delhi could be due to laxity in following public health measures (mask usage, physical distancing, hygiene) among citizens, especially with increased social interactions during the ongoing festive season.

Additionally, winter and rising air pollution also increase the risk element, he said.

Doctors have warned a group of 29 elite athletes – including women’s marathon world record-holder Brigid Kosgei from Kenya and Ethiopia’s two-time men’s winner Andamlak Belihu – against competing in Sunday’s New Delhi half-marathon.

Health experts said it would be “suicidal” for runners to run the race this time, in the midst of a major coronavirus outbreak and soaring air pollution.

The rise in coronavirus infections in New Delhi has been a huge burden on hospitals.

ICU availability

Indian news agency PTI reported the number of available Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds equipped with ventilators reduced to 205 in the city on Thursday, with zero vacancies in at least 60 hospitals.

“Our manpower is getting exhausted. Doctors are exhausted over the last nine months now and some of them are sick and admitted in hospitals,” said Dr DS Rana, chairman at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, adding that doctors are doing extra shifts and seeing more patients than usual due to the pandemic.

Dr Rana added: “During last eight to nine months, we never faced the problems that we have to refuse somebody because of the ventilators but in the last four-five days the situation has changed and all the beds with ventilators got full.”

“Yesterday, all our ICUs were exhausted. There were no ICU beds available in the hospital,” he said, adding they have got 40 more ICU beds from the government.

The central government earlier this month flew in doctors from other regions and promised to increase ICU beds as Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan warned against a worsening health situation in the capital.

Wearing of face masks has been made mandatory, and the city government last week quadrupled the fine on those defying mask rules and physical distancing in the public in a bid to help control the coronavirus surge.

The city authorities also said only 50 people will be allowed at wedding functions as opposed to the earlier limit of 200.

“Government should strictly deal with people who flout the COVID-19 rules,” said Tushar Batnagar, a resident of New Delhi who works at an eatery.

Though people in the capital city can be seen wearing face masks, social distancing guidelines are not being followed properly, mostly in market places.

Al Jazeera’s request for comment from New Delhi’s governing party spokesperson went unanswered.