New Delhi: On the precipice of a third wave of Covid infections, a large number of doctors and paramedics in Delhi are turning out to be Covid positive which might put the city’s health infrastructure under severe strain, experts said on Tuesday.
At least 50 doctors have tested Covid positive at AIIMS in Delhi while 26 have been diagnosed with the disease at the Safdarjung Hospital, officials said.
Forty-five healthcare workers, including 38 doctors, have contracted Covid at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the last few days, according to an official.
At the North Delhi Municipal Corporation-run Hindu Rao Hospital at least 30 doctors have contracted Covid while at the Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Hospital it is seven, sources said.
Even though the Delhi government repeatedly stressed that most cases this time would be mild or asymptomatic not requiring hospitalisation, data shows an uptick in the number of Covid patients in hospitals and those requiring oxygen and ventilator support.
Experts said that since the highly transmissible Omicron variant is going to infect people in a never-seen-before number, those requiring medical care in hospitals will also be proportionate.
Delhi reported 5,481 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest since May 16, with a positivity rate of 8.37 per cent, and three more fatalities due to the viral disease.
In view of the alarming spike in cases, the AIIMS administration has cancelled the winter vacation of its faculty members.
”It is to inform that the competent authority has decided to cancel the remaining part of the winter vacation — from January 5 to 10 — due to ongoing COVID 19/Omicron pandemic. All faculty members are requested to join back their duty with immediate effect,” read an office memorandum issued on January 3.
Officials at the Safdarjung Hospital said at least 26 doctors from the departments of gynaecology, medicine and microbiology have been infected and are in isolation. Their contacts are being traced.
Seven doctors at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, the largest healthcare facility of the Delhi government, have tested positive for coronavirus in the last two days, Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Ritu Saxena said, adding three of them have been kept in a special ward and the rest are in home isolation.
Dr Madhu Handa, the Medical Director of Moolchand Hospital, said four resident doctors and at least five nurses have tested Covid positive in a week.
”The other doctors have to manage somehow, do double shifts. Sometimes, we hire more doctors. As for nurses, we have to manage or nursing third-year students are pulled into duty,” he said.
Dr B L Sherwal, the medical director of the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, said a few doctors are testing Covid positive every day and the number is likely to rise in the coming days ”The number of hospitalisations has so far remained low, but it is going to increase and put the healthcare staff under strain. Doctors, nursing staff, laboratory technicians, paramedical staff form one of the most vulnerable groups. A large number of healthcare staff members are getting infected will compound the situation,” he said.
Dr Sherwal said the city government has trained 5,000 youths as medical assistants and they will be deployed if the need arises.
The city government had last month ordered medical superintendents and directors of all state-run hospitals to hire manpower in anticipation of a surge in infections.
Dr Manish Jangra, President of the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association, said they had warned the government of a healthcare crisis and requested it to expedite the NEET-PG 2021 counselling. ”The hospitals are operating with two-third of their staff. The situation will spiral out of control at the peak of the wave. Resident doctors are already struggling with burnout,” he said.
Dr Arun Kumar Sharma from the Community Medicine department of University College of Medical Sciences said the number of hospitalisation is likely to increase proportionately and a large number of doctors getting infected can lead to a temporary crisis even if they develop mild symptoms.
”The burst in cases among doctors in Nalanda (Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in Bihar’s Patna) is due to the Omicron variant which has been causing only mild disease.
”Nonetheless, these doctors will also have to isolate themselves for seven to 10 days. So, it can definitely lead to a temporary crisis in hospitals,” he said.
Dr Sharma suggested that hospitals create a ”buffer stock of doctors” which can be deployed in such a situation.
”Also, Covid-appropriate behaviour will have to be strictly implemented in hospitals, dispensaries and clinics. The entry of patients in such places should be regulated according to the space available to ensure social distancing,” he said.
Government data showed the number of patients in hospitals in Delhi has increased from 247 on January 1 to 531 on January 4. In the last three days, the number of patients on oxygen support has increased from 94 to 168 and those on ventilators from four to 14.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had earlier said his government is ready to handle up to one lakh Covid cases a day in a worst-case scenario.
The Centre’s coronavirus task force head Dr V K Paul had in December warned India could witness 14 lakh cases a day if the Omicron variant surge is not slowed.