NEW DELHI: The third wave of the Covid pandemic driven by the Omicron variant had resulted in a record surge in Delhi in early 2022, followed by a relative dip in cases during successive months, but as the year draws to an end, all eyes are on the fresh threat, proving many experts right that ''Covid is not out of the world yet''.
The pandemic, the worst since the Spanish Flu of 1918, had wreaked havoc globally in 2020 and 2021 and Delhi was one of the worst-hit cities, particularly during the deadly second wave when the death toll hit through the roofs as the capital was left scrambling for hospital beds and literally gasping for breath.
After two years of the mayhem, 2022 largely had been easy for people in Delhi as daily cases, positivity rate, death count and hospital admission figures, have all come down significantly by the end of the year. However, although people were hoping to breathe easy while welcoming 2023, a new Covid scare may be looming on the horizon.
The next 40 days are going to be crucial as India may see a surge in COVID-19 cases in January, official sources said on December 28, citing the pattern of previous outbreaks.
Covid cases have lately seen a surge in China and some other countries, prompting both the Centre and the Delhi government to recalibrate their strategies for combating the pandemic.
Mock drills were held at health facilities across India on December 27 to check operational readiness to deal with any spurt in COVID-19 infection, with Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya saying the country has to remain alert and prepared as cases are rising in the world.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the city government-run hospitals are ''fully equipped'' to fight any surge in Covid cases on a day mock drills were conducted at LNJP Hospital and various other medical facilities in the capital as well.
Sisodia also asked people not to panic, saying primary data suggests that the new BF.7 sub-strain of the coronavirus, which is causing a surge in infections in other countries, is similar to previous variants.
The mock drill assessed bed availability, manpower, referral resources, testing capacity, medical logistics, telemedicine services and medical oxygen availability, among other aspects.
''At the LNJP Hospital, there are 2,000 beds and 450 of those are dedicated to COVID-19. If need arises, we can dedicate all 2,000 beds for COVID-19... We can also increase this number by using nearby banquet halls and add an additional 500 beds for COVID-19 fight, so there would no shortage,'' he had said.
During the second wave, all Covid hospitals were swamped with patients, and the LNJP Hospital, the mainstay of Delhi's fight against the pandemic, also saw a rush of patients during the third wave.
The number of daily cases in Delhi had touched a record high of 28,867 on January 13 during the third wave of the pandemic which was largely due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The city recorded a positivity rate of 30.6 per cent on January 14, the highest during the third wave. The daily cases count has been on the decline after that surge.
As daily cases steadily dipped in months following March, authorities on April 2 had lifted the penalty of Rs 500 for not wearing face masks at public places. On April 2, Delhi had logged 114 COVID-19 cases with a positivity rate of 0.71 per cent and zero death due to the viral disease.
Many doctors had then said the ''move was not wise'' and should have been done in a ''phased manner''.
Doctors at leading hospitals in Delhi had also concurred that while the number of cases has significantly declined, ''Covid is not out of the world yet''.
On April 22, Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) made wearing masks in public places mandatory again, and eventually decided to stop levying the penalty after September 30.
Delhi has recorded over 2,007,000 Covid cases and more than 26,520 deaths since the pandemic started in early 2020. The number of daily cases has remained below 20 and the positivity rate below 1 per cent since mid-November, according to official data.
However, in the wake of surge in cases in some countries, doctors and experts have advised to wear masks in public places and in crowded locations, more so, when currently there are no restrictions for gatherings, and huge crowds are expected at tourist spots and public landmarks like the India Gate on New Year's Eve and New Year Day.
Referring to the surge in COVID-19 cases in some countries, the Union Health ministry recently underlined that it was necessary that requisite public health measures are put in place in all states and Union Territories to meet any exigencies.
The Delhi government on December 26 approved a budget of Rs 104 crore for hospitals to procure general medicines as part of preparations to deal with emergency situations amid a surge in cases abroad.
During a review meeting on the COVID-19 situation on December 22, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had issued instructions to send all positive cases for genome sequencing and increase precaution dose coverage and manpower in hospitals. He had also directed officials to take prior approval for procurement of essential items needed and inspect machines in all hospitals.
Some experts say the BF.7 sub-strain should not worry India too much as a lot of people have developed immunity against the virus -- either through vaccination or previous infection -- unlike China where people have low immunity due to tough restrictions.
Among other healthcare sector decisions, the Delhi government on December 13 had announced that it will provide 450 types of medical tests free of cost at its hospitals and health centres from January 1. At present, 212 medical tests are provided free of cost by the city government, officials said. ''Healthcare has become very expensive. Many people cannot afford private healthcare. This step will help all such people,'' Kejriwal had said.