From around one in three people who tested positive more than a week ago to less than one in six on Saturday, the test positivity rate as well as the hospitalization rate in the capital have continued to fall, offering even more signs that the current Covid epidemic is now under control.
The number of new cases, according to Saturday’s health report, was 11,486, up 6.7% from Friday’s number – but taking into account the number of tests up 17.7%, the new cases result in a drop in the positivity rate from 18.04% to 16.34%.
A total of 2,504 people with Covid-19 were in hospitals across the city. This number peaked at 2,784 on January 17 and has been falling ever since. The beds occupied on Saturday represented just over 16% of the capacity available in the city currently. Even at its peak, the number of new cases in the current wave posed no threat to the city’s healthcare infrastructure – at least 80% of hospital beds reserved for Covid-19 were vacant everywhere, with a larger surge capacity available if required.
The city’s active cases on Saturday were down to 58,593, the lowest since Jan. 8. This brings the hospitalization rate as a proportion of active cases to just 4.2%.
“We’ve avoided the worst of this wave, but we remain cautious and are watching the numbers closely. We’ve also lowered testing costs so people can come in and get tested easily now. Even though the numbers are coming down now, we urge people to continue wearing masks and following all Covid protocols,” said Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain.
An expert said the trends, including high hospital vacancy rates, reinforce the conclusion that the situation is stable and argue for the removal of some restrictions.
“Restrictions can be removed because it doesn’t help much except just to create psychological solace among people. The longer we impose the restrictions, the longer it will take for the cases to come down,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of community medicine department at Safdarjung Hospital.
Delhi recorded 45 Covid deaths on Saturday, the highest in the Omicron wave so far. Although details of these particular deaths were not available, government death audits and assessments of a large network of private hospitals showed that most deaths this month were in people who were unvaccinated or with significant comorbidities.
The last time such a high number of deaths was reported was June 5, when fatalities stood at 68.
Experts have pointed out that the trend is particularly encouraging because with the new testing guidelines, positivity rates are bound to be higher than previous testing programs since the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) now advises targeting testing on people with symptoms.
“The revised ICMR guidelines said that in a community setting, testing should be done for people who are symptomatic or who have been exposed to a confirmed case of Covid, particularly people over 60 and those suffering from comorbidities. So we are supposed to test people who are likely to test positive,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of department of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
On Friday, Jain described the falling numbers as a sign that “the severe danger from coronavirus has subsided in Delhi” and said further decisions would be taken to lift more restrictions shortly. The minister said his government had written to the Lieutenant Governor-led Delhi Disaster Management Authority, which rejected two of the three demands: cancel the weekend curfew and allow all to open the shops of a market.
Several states have rolled back curbs at similar outbreak levels. Karnataka lifted the weekend curfew on Friday after recording a hospitalization rate as a proportion of active cases below 5%.
Maharashtra earlier in the week also moved to remove some restrictions, including allowing schools to reopen.
Schools in the capital have been closed since the end of December.
There is now a growing clamor for the government to allow more businesses to open, particularly at weekends. “When there was a need for such restrictions, all traders and market associations welcomed weekend closures and even and odd restrictions for shops. Even this time when the third wave started, we didn’t say no and implemented all DDMA commands. But I have to say we are extending the restrictions too much now as the positivity rate is down and most people are vaccinated,” said Ashwani Marwah, Secretary General of Traders Association Lajpat Nagar (TALN).
“On January 15, when we were recording the peak of Covid infections, the positivity rate was 30.64%. In one week, we managed to halve the positivity rate. It also indicates that we were proactive in calling some brakes early, which also controlled the spread, ”said a senior health department official, describing the trends as a great relief.
A senior administration official said some restrictions — nighttime curfews, weekend curfews and the opening of odd-even stores in markets — could be rolled back next week after a DDMA meeting.
(With contributions by Sweta Goswami)