New Delhi: Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain on Monday attributed the high COVID-19 death rate to the pollution caused by stubble-burning and said he expected a downtrend in the next two-three weeks, while the city got a mobile laboratory that will conduct RT-PCR test for coronavirus at Rs 499 against the Rs 2,400 at private facilities in the National Capital.

As the National Capital grappled with a surge in the infection, the Delhi government has directed private hospitals and nursing homes to keep ICU and normal beds that have recently been reserved for COVID-19 patients vacant after the discharge of any non-coronavirus patient occupying them.

The government has ordered 90 private hospitals to reserve 60 percent of their total bed capacity for COVID-19 patients, while 42 private hospitals have been directed to reserve 80 percent of their total ICU bed capacity for such patients.

In an order, the government said that in the last fortnight, there has been an “unprecedented surge” in the number of clinically-severe COVID cases, having less than 90 percent oxygen saturation at the time of arrival to the hospital, requiring intensive care.

“However, if in some hospitals, non-COVID patients are already admitted in more than 20 percent of their ICU/ HDU beds then in such cases once these non-COVID patients are discharged, the vacant ICU/HDU bed shall thereafter be kept reserved for COVID-19 patients only,” said the order.

The National Capital has witnessed a spurt in coronavirus cases since 28 October, when the daily caseload breached the 5,000-mark for the first time and recorded the highest single-day spike of 8,593 cases on 11 November.

On Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated a mobile laboratory that will conduct RT-PCR tests for COVID-19 in Delhi at an affordable rate of Rs 499 and the results will be available in six hours.

In Delhi, the rate for an RT-PCR test, considered to be the most accurate COVID test worldwide, in private laboratories has been fixed by at Rs 2,400 and the report is normally available in 24-48 hours. There is no charge for this test at the Delhi government-run health facilities.

At least five persons died due to COVID-19 every hour on an average in the National Capital on Sunday, while the country reported an average of 21 deaths per hour in this period.

The analysis was based on the data given on Monday morning by the Union Health Ministry on the total number of deaths recorded in the country and all states and UTs due to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, talking to reporters, Jain said that the COVID-19 fatality rate is expected to come down in the next two-three weeks as there has been a reduction in the pollution level.

The minister told reporters that the pollution due to stubble-burning created a big problem in Delhi. It caused problems in breathing and those who had COVID-19 inhaled the smoke, which aggravated the seriousness, he said.

Its effect on the city’s COVID-19 death rate will go away in the next two-three weeks since pollution due to stubble-burning has lessened in the last few days, he said.

“There was heavy pollution due to stubble-burning amid the COVID-19 pandemic and it came as a double attack. Since the pollution due to stubble-burning is less now, the downtrend in deaths will be there in a few weeks,” Jain said.

On Monday, Delhi reported 4,454 fresh COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of 11.94 percent while 121 more fatalities pushed the toll to 8,512, city authorities said.

This is the sixth time in the last 12 days that the daily number of deaths has crossed the 100-mark.

The National Capital recorded 6,746 fresh COVID-19 cases on Sunday and a positivity rate of 12.29 percent, while 121 more fatalities took the death toll due to the disease to 8,391.

The authorities reported 111 deaths on Saturday, 118 on Friday, 131 on 18 November, the highest till date, and 104 on 12 November.

While a total of 511 COVID-19 deaths were recorded across the country in the past 24 hours, Delhi accounted for the largest chunk of such fatalities with 121 fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed on Monday.

Delhi has reported a death rate of 1.58 percent among COVID-19 patients as compared to the national fatality rate of 1.48 percent.

Experts attribute the high figure of daily COVID-19 deaths in the National Capital to a large number of “critical” non-resident patients coming to the city for treatment, unfavourable weather, pollution, and a better “reporting and mapping” of fatalities.

They say the easing of restrictions has exposed the vulnerable population, such as the elderly and those having comorbidities, to the deadly virus.

With the rising number of cases, the Union home ministry had on 20 November said the capacity of daily RT-PCR tests in Delhi was increased to 37,200.

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