No Plan to Shut Down Delhi Markets, 50 People Limit Applies to All Gatherings: Manish Sisodia

File photo of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.

File photo of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.

In an interview to CNN-News18, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said that certain regulations may be imposed if the crowds and Covid-19 cases continue to surge in Delhi markets.

Rupashree Nanda

Reiterating the Delhi government’s denial of another lockdown, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia has said that there are no plans to shut down markets or reopen schools either. In an interview to CNN-News18, Sisodia, however, said that certain regulations may be imposed if the crowds and Covid-19 cases continue to surge in markets. Replying to Congress leader Ajay Maken’s criticism of the lavish Lakshmi Puja attended by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Sisodia said the national capital could have handled the pandemic better had the Congress strengthened the healthcare infrastructure during its 15-year reign in Delhi.

Edited excerpts:

It is the third and deadliest wave of the coronavirus in Delhi with 584 deaths in six days. What forced your government to revisit the strategy and are you looking at a complete shutdown of markets?

No one is thinking about complete shutdown or lockdown. It is a misconception being spread that we are headed for a lockdown. I have been saying repeatedly that lockdown is not the solution for Covid-19. The solution is better hospital management, better medical facilities, and better medical management. The Delhi government has been working in this area in a very robust manner.

We have already imposed a lockdown. There was a lockdown in the entire country too, and we have seen the consequences. Problems have spiraled instead. In some markets, we have witnessed unprecedented crowds and we are watching these markets. If, even after the end of festivals, we continue to see such crowds and if we find positive cases from the markets, where we are also conducting tests, then we will think about certain regulations, how to enforce social distancing, how to decrease the crowds, and how to make people who visit markets wear masks. We will talk to the market associations and impose certain regulations, if necessary. However, there is no question of any lockdown.

You are talking about regulations in market places. Are you also thinking about similar regulations and restrictions for the transportation sector?

We are not at all thinking about shutting down markets. I am reiterating that we have only sought permission from the central government that, if necessary, we may impose certain regulations. However, this is neither lockdown nor mini-lockdown as is being termed by the media. And we are not thinking about bringing in regulations elsewhere. I am saying again that the solution to coronavirus does not lie in shutting down everything. The solution lies in treating the person infected by Covid-19. You cannot stop the coronavirus. No one in the world has any control over the rise and fall in cases.

In Delhi, our hospital management system is such that we have nearly 26,000 people in home-isolation. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was the first to initiate the system of home isolation in the country.

Secondly, we have a good ambulance service. There is no issue there. Today, Delhi has more 16,000 Covid-specific beds, of which nearly 7,500 to 8,000 beds are empty. There was a shortage of ICUs, on which the chief minister had written to the central government seeking help. We are grateful to the central government that they would give us 250 ICU beds by Monday. They have promised to give us 750 ICU beds in total. Once these ICU beds are available, there will be no problem.

However, the manner in which the cases and number of deaths are spiraling, the availability of ICU beds can still become an issue...

In ICUs, 85 to 90% of the beds are occupied. Around 50% of non-ICU beds are available. We did face a shortage of ICU beds which is why we requested the central government for help. The CM is seeking help from all - central government, charitable organisations, DRDO. Wherever there is a need, the chief minister is not hesitating in asking for help. The positive thing is that we are getting help.

When it is difficult to enforce social distancing in markets, and when we are at this peak, what solution exists apart from shutting down markets?

Lockdown is not the solution. Mass awareness is. While the government is working successfully on better medical facilities and better hospital management, everyone has to be committed to stop the pandemic. Whenever we step out -- to the markets, in our vehicles, in buses, for walks -- we must ensure that we wear our masks. Masks are absolutely essential.

Is the proposal restricting the number of people to 50 instead of 200 applicable only to weddings? Or gatherings of all kinds?

It is applicable to all public gatherings. It is not about weddings. The point is that the more people gather, the more chances there are of violation of protocols. If one person in that gathering of 200 is infected, then all others carry the risk of getting infected. Hence, the restriction on all kinds of gatherings.

You are thinking about imposing these restrictions now. Why didn't you think of them before? Perhaps this situation would not have arisen then?

I feel that these steps have been taken at the right time. Due to festivals, there was a surge of people in the markets. I feel the step has been taken at the right time.

Congress leader Ajay Maken has alleged that you splurged Rs 32 crore on Lakshmi Puja on Diwali. The same money could have been utilised in providing more healthcare facilities in Delhi at a time of such economic distress.

I don't have the figures for how much money was spent, but maybe Ajay Maken has them. Maken's party is now having problems even with Diwai pujan, which is quite unfortunate. Maken's party was in the government for 15 years in Delhi. Had they done as much for medical facilities as has been done in the last five years, Delhi would be in a different state now.

No question of schools re-opening now?

No. Not at all.

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