Covid-19 update

Delhi: No room for complacency

Published : July 22, 2020 16:10 IST

Waiting for rapid antigen testing in Adarsh Nagar, New Delhi on July 12. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a virtual press conference on the COVID-19 situation on July 15. Photo: PTI

Volunteers serving food to the needy after the lockdown was lifted, in New Delhi on July 19. Photo: PTI

A locality in central Delhi that has been declared a red zone, on July 17. Photo: Kamal Narang

Morale is low and migrants suffer due to official apathy in the national capital region, whose residents remain vigilant despite the State government’s claim that the situation is under control.

On July 20, the Delhi government reported 954 COVID-19 cases for the day _the number was below the 1,000-mark for the first time since May-end when the pandemic spiralled out of hand.

If this trend continues, it could mean that Delhi’s coronavirus curve is finally flattening, according to Dr Randeep Guleria, Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has maintained that the daily case count in July has reduced as a result of increased testing and said that the situation in Delhi was under control.

But new cases continue to crop up in Dehi’s neighbourhoods; as of July 20, the total number of cases in the apital had touched 1,23,747. Hence, the residents of Delhi and frontline workers are not complacent and continue to remain vigilant.

‘Lockdown fatigue’

Residents of Bhogal in Central Delhi said that the pandemic had become unmanageable. The locality has five containment zones within a radius of 1 square kilometre. But the neighbourhood market selling everything from groceries to garments to electronics is bustling with activity.

Despite clear signs of the pandemic raging through the neighbourhood, people are out on the streets for two reasons. One is to resume economic activity and the other is to overcome the “lockdown fatigue” arising out of staying indoors for months together.

“What can we do? We have suffered massive losses during the three-month lockdown. Dimaag pe asar hua hai (it has taken a toll on our mental health). Now we have no option but to step out for our survival,” said a shopkeeper.

Some residents, however, are practicing self-containment and have not stepped out. “Without proper social distancing, the market is a death trap,” said a resident. She orders essentials through home delivery apps or steps out in the wee hours of the day when the streets are empty.

Low morale

Business morale continues to remain low in Delhi. Footfalls in malls and retail sales are abysmally low and several businesses have shut down, especially in upmarket areas such as Khan Market where rentals are steep.

Contrary to expectations, the situation of migrant workers has not improved after the lockdown was lifted, especially because the government has closed the hunger relief centres that were providing cooked meals to the needy. The sudden closure of these centres without any alternative arrangement has left daily wagers, migrants and the marginalised in the lurch.

Further, the Delhi government has discontinued the distribution of foodgrains to people without ration cards. Earlier, it had supplied rations to around 54 lakh people for two months through an e-coupons system.

Shourya Roy of Janman, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said that the situation was dire for daily wagers across sectors and localities—from workers at a Public Works Department’s construction site near Old Delhi railway station to security guards outside call centres in Gurgaon, and residents of Sanjay Camp to Grameen Seva drivers.

He told Frontline: “The workers are not being paid wages even though the lockdown has been lifted. NGOs and individuals have been helping migrants and others. But with the media not reporting on their plight any more, our donations are drying up. We don’t know for how long we can keep going like this. Unless the government steps in to provide a robust intervention, no solution can be found.”

Janman completed 100 days of COVID relief work on July 10. Roy said that there was no systematic testing of migrants in Delhi, leading to a risky situation for both migrants and relief volunteers.

Further, the migrants’ trust of the police and the medical system is at an all-time low. They fear the police because of their high-handedness; and they prefer going to a local quack rather than be shunted around in government hospitals, Roy added.

Sharing his experience of supplying food and water in Shramik Special trains, he said that the police tried to chase the volunteers away and obstructed their relief measures at every given opportunity.

“The system has assumed that the migrants’ comfort level is low. From the police to the medical fraternity to the state, no one thought it was wrong to make them stand in queues for several hours without food, water or access to a toilet,” he said.

On July 16, an NGO named Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) moved an application before the Delhi High Court highlighting the discontinuation of food security schemes by the Delhi government “despite the national disaster declaration still being in force and despite no measure of normalcy having returned in the country or the State”.

Even as the Central and State governments extended food security schemes to ration card holders until November, they have ignored those without ration cards. DRRAA said this was a violation of the right to food and the right to life of lakhs of people resident in the city.

It said: “This demonstrates that both the Central and the Delhi government are well aware of the fact that people, especially those in the informal sector, daily wagers, migrant labourers and marginalised require continued assistance to survive and have two square meals a day. In such a scenario, not providing rations to other people in a similar predicament, merely on the basis that they do not possess a ration card on account of the system of having upper limit on the number of ration card holders, is arbitrary, and is in violation of the fundamental right to food of people as protected under Article 21 of the Constitution and also a gross violation of Article 14.”

Tablighi Jamaat

Meanwhile, Delhi courts have granted bail to hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members who were charged under various sections of the Disaster Management Act, the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Indian Penal Code, the Foreigners Act and prohibitory orders of the Criminal Procedure Code.

They include 682 foreign nationals from 35 different countries who had been charge sheeted for attending the congregation in Nizamuddin Markaz allegedly in violation of visa norms.

Among them, 82 were from Bangladesh, 122 from Malaysia, 150 from Indonesia, 75 from Thailand and Nepal, and others from Djibouti, Mali, Kenya, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The Central government has cancelled their visas and blacklisted them.

In June, the police had filed 59 charge sheets against 956 foreigners belonging to 36 different countries in the case.

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