Delhi’s systems are sinking under the third COVID-19 wave, resident experiences show

09 December 2020
Passengers wearing protective face masks stand in queue to get tested for COVID-19 at a railway station in Delhi on 5 October.
Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis
Passengers wearing protective face masks stand in queue to get tested for COVID-19 at a railway station in Delhi on 5 October.
Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis

On 4 November, Delhi resident Anurag Bahl went to get an RT-PCR test for COVID-19. Bahl had tested negative on a rapid antigen test the previous day. As per protocol, he had to confirm that result with the more reliable RT-PCR. He expected that, after 10 months of the pandemic, testing systems would be working smoothly. He was mistaken.

Bahl lives in sector 7 of the Dwarka locality and went to a testing centre in sector 10 about two kilometres away.When he arrived at the centre at 8:30 am, he was told that the technician was on leave. He then went to the Bensups hospital in sector 12, another two kilometres away. The security guard denied him entry saying that the hospital did not conduct COVID-19 tests anymore. Subsequently, he went to the nearby government dispensary which was under renovation. A home guard on duty told him that no tests were being done that day. Next, he went to a polyclinic in sector 2 where he was finally tested. “There was no real-time information at dispensaries so that the people could be aware that where the test is being done,” Bahl said. He observed that people waiting at the various testing centres had no information about what time staff would begin seeing them. 

Bahl was given the run around when he went to collect his report as well. “They first said there was no report under my name,” he told me. “I asked them repeatedly about my test and showed them the ID number. They said that my name was Anurag Bhai in place of Anurag Bahl in the report. They gave me one page of the report instead of two saying that they had no paper left to print the second page.” Bahl insisted on the full report and managed to get it but he is disillusioned with the whole process. “This is surprising that despite being the zonal office of Dwarka district, the sector 2 dispensary had such issues.”

Like Bahl, many residents of Delhi had to visit multiple centres before getting tested during the third wave of COVID-19 that has swept Delhi since early November.This is not merely an inconvenience. It is a big risk. Infected asymptomatic people trying to get tested have a high chance of infecting others during these visits to various centres. Also like Bahl, many people in Delhi have had to wait days for test results. A health official showed me texts from people asking him for help to get their results. Those who have got through to officials are the lucky few. For most part, city systems have failed citizens. People who have tested positive have received little support from health authorities or their political representatives even as the number of cases rose steeply through November.

The rise in cases started in late October. In November the city recorded 1,83,668 cases—an average of more than six thousand cases per day. In November alone, 2,663 people died in the city. Instead of being more responsive, city officials were missing in action. People I spoke to said that no one responded when they called COVID-19 helpline numbers. Officials listed as nodal officers were not answering their phones. 

Akhilesh Pandey is a journalist based in Delhi.

Keywords: COVID-19 coronavirus SARS-CoV2 Delhi government