Diwali Covid wave roils Delhi as hospitals struggle under strain

India's capital is struggling with hazardously poor air quality as well as a coronavirus surge
India's capital is struggling with hazardously poor air quality as well as a coronavirus surge AFP

Thousands are falling ill every day in India’s capital grappling with a deadly third wave of Covid-19 but shoppers crowded markets at the peak of Hindu festivals which will soon roll into a boisterous wedding season.


Delhi reported 7,802 new Covid 19 cases on Friday, up from 7,053 infections the previous day. The previous ten days have been equally dismal in Delhi where millions today joined an annual shopping frenzy to mark Diwali, the festival of lights when Hindus exchange gifts.

The bleak figures took to 467,000 Delhi’s overall number of coronavirus cases and 7,423 deaths since January as its groaning healthcare services slid towards disarray.

India’s Covid capital

“Most government hospitals are running full but we are trying our best to meet the demand of the people of Delhi,” said BL Shrewal, director of a sprawling state-run city hospital.

The chilling message was repeated by others as environmentalists added Delhi’s polluted air would exacerbate the unprecedented health crisis.

“Looks like this may continue like this for a few weeks before the numbers starts coming down,” Rajiv Chawla, a consultant from the privately-run Apollo Hospital, told the Hindustan Times daily.

Residents too complained of being turned away from hospitals.

“The ones I visited were packed like sardines” with Covid patients, said Rahul Verma, a city financial consultant.

On Saturday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal prodded the city’s 20 million residents to join him in prayers from their homes today as he faced criticism for the spread of the pandemic, which has infected 8.7 million people nationwide.

"We have been taking all the appropriate measures to control it and we are considering taking more steps next week,” Kejriwal said.

India on ‘auto-mode’

But his administration has reopened pubs, malls, restaurants and cinemas, allowed suburban trains to resume commuter services and lifted restrictions on public crowding.   

“I think we are on auto-mode now,” said Mahesh Chandra Misra, former director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s largest hospital in Delhi.

“So those who die, they die and those who survives will survive and I think that is where we have reached now …It has been left to God to tackle Covid,” Misra told a public debate.

“People are not paying any heed to precautions,” he said of the tens of thousands of bargain-hunters milling around city markets without face masks or any other health precautions.

The Hindu festival season will largely peter out on November 20 when an annual sun worship event will draw tens of thousands to a city river or ponds for a ritual bath.

Traders laughing their way to banks

The celebratory mood has rekindled hope among the country’s 70 million traders who went into distress when India’s enforced the world’s strictest lockdown on March 24.

“Traders are lapping it up,” said Praveen Khandelwal, who leads a national association of retailers as stores counted the rising foot-falls of gleeful Diwali shoppers. Delhi markets posted a spike in the festival sale of sweets, dry fruits as well as smart-phones, household electronics and designer clothing.

Big spenders crowded car showrooms or Delhi’s fashionable jewelry stores where 24-carat gold sold at around 51 euros for one gram.

“The frenzy will return before November 25 at the start of the winter wedding season,” commented a city jewellery store executive who is also a Covid survivor.

“And so will another wave of Covid,” she shuddered.


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