A civil defence volunteer prepares a bed at a banquet hall temporarily converted into isolation ward for Covid-19 coronavirus patients after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure in New Delhi on June 15, 2020. Photo: AFP/ Prakash Singh

India’s capital and the major commercial center of Mumbai look like swapping positions as the cities worst-affected by Covid-19.

What was the worst of times for Mumbai for the past three months could soon be so for Delhi.

With cases more than quadrupling in a month, Delhi has hit the panic button.
The Home Minister took the rare step of calling an all-party meeting on Monday and committed to testing everyone in areas where there have been cases.

Medical personnel will do house-to-house surveys in these zones to improve contact mapping.

The rate of testing is to be doubled over two days and trebled after six. This is a significant step after frequent complaints that testing wasn’t done or was done too late to be useful.

Another key issue has been the trouble patients have had to find a hospital bed. The government plans to take charge of 60% of all private hospital beds for Covid-19 treatment at lower rates and fix cheaper rates for testing and treatment.

One innovative measure in Delhi is the conversion of 500 railway coaches into mini-nursing homes, adding 800 beds with all the facilities needed to treat Covid-19 patients. The Delhi government also plans to use rooms at 40 hotels and 77 banquet halls as makeshift mini-hospitals.

Delhi was one of the four states to be rebuked on Friday by the Supreme Court for the poor level of testing, availability of beds, care of patients and providing dignity for the dead.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said last week the city was poised to double the number of cases at least every two weeks. He predicted trebling of cases by the end of June, a surge to about 225,000 by mid-July and 550,000 by the end of the month.

The sharp increase in cases has fueled speculation of another lockdown in the national capital. On Monday, Kejriwal denied this after the all-party meeting with the home minister, however.

In contrast, in Mumbai the number of days it takes for cases to double has increased to more than 23 days, compared with 14.5 days in mid-May and 9 days at the end of April.

The commercial capital, grappling with choked-up intensive care units and ventilators, is adding 230 more ICUs to its present 1,159.

The city had earlier ramped up its bed capacity by using private clubs and exhibition grounds as make-shift facilities. The state also halved the cost of tests to find undetected carriers of the virus.

In a major move to boost public confidence and improve accessibility for essential medical and government staff, Mumbai restarted its suburban trains which stopped running on March 23. Mumbai trains carry more than seven million commuters every day and are the lifeline of the city.

Initially, trains will run once every 15 minutes and have a strict protocol checking passengers for sickness. No more than 700 passengers will be allowed on a train that has a seating capacity of 1,200 to ensure social distancing.

Getting Mumbai back on track is critical for the Indian economy, which is predicted to shrink in the year to March 31.

Mumbai is home to the central bank, two main stock exchanges, financial services and headquarters of other major companies, diamond and commodities exchanges, and is a main trading center for gold and silver. It is also the center for the world’s most prolific movie-making industry, known as Bollywood.

India is now the fourth worst-affected country in the world after the US, Brazil and Russia, with 333,008 cases. In terms of new daily cases, India is third after the US and Brazil, with the latest figure being 11,382.