Coronavirus: Delhi ramps up preventive measures | News | DW | 17.03.2020
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Coronavirus: Delhi ramps up preventive measures

As New Delhi scrambles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, protesters in the Shaheen Bagh district refuse to give up their fight against a contentious citizenship law.

Mass sanitization of buses is underway at Delhi's inter-state bus terminals. Sanitation workers wearing masks are carrying containers of disinfectant on their backs, spraying all incoming buses with chemicals.

The Delhi government under Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday restricted all gatherings to 50 people: gyms, weekly bazaars, night clubs, pubs and spas will suspend operations till March 31.

Read more: South Asia leaders to discuss how to tackle coronavirus

This, however, does not include weddings, even though Kejriwal urged citizens to consider postponing such events in light of the pandemic.

"I have directed all DMs, SDMs and municipal commissioners to set up portable washbasins with automatic soap dispensers in public spaces that have not yet been shut," Kejriwal said on Twitter. "The most foolproof way to stop Coronavirus from spreading is frequent washing of hands with soap."

This comes days after the Indian capital saw its first coronavirus-related death last week: a 68-year-old woman who died at the city's Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital after coming in contact with her son, Delhi's fifth case of coronavirus. He had traveled to Switzerland and Italy recently.

Empty streets in New Delhi (DW/S. Chabba)

Empty streets at the Hauz Khas Village in south Delhi.

In order to be eligible for testing in India, you must have traveled to a country with a COVID-19 outbreak or come in contact with a confirmed or suspected case. Just showcasing symptoms is not enough to get tested.

Three hotels near the Delhi airport have been turned into "pay and use quarantine" facilities at fixed rates.

Fate of Shaheen Bagh protesters

As news of the restrictions on gatherings of over 50 people spreads, the mood in northeast Delhi's Shaheen Bagh is noticeably defiant. The epicenter of women-led protests against a controversial citizenship law, Shaheen Bagh has seen local women peacefully demonstrate against the government for over 90 continuous days.

The protesters say that they are not ready to pack up.

Women gathering in protest at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. (DW/S. Chabba)

Women at Shaheen Bagh have decided to continue their protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act despite government instructions that restrict public gatherings over coronavirus.

"Our CM has said that more than 50 people cannot gather at one place, but what about the Parliament, which is currently in session, or even weddings?" asked Shabana, a Shaheen Bagh resident who has been a part of the sit-in for three months.

"We weren't deterred by the riots, we will not be deterred by the government's attempt to silence us now," she added, referring to clashes between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and those who were against it.

"What happens to people who are living in camps after their houses were burnt? Does coronavirus not affect them?" Shabana asked, as she talked about over-crowded relief camps set up by the Delhi government and locals in northeast Delhi's Mustafabad.

The women at Shaheen Bagh, however, are taking measures to avoid the virus. Awareness camps are being held so that women check their body temperature and report any health issues. Those exhibiting symptoms are asked by the community to self-quarantine.

Read more: India's Modi gets invitation for Valentine’s Day from citizenship law protesters

The protesters try to wash their hands regularly, and small bottles of sanitizers can be seen getting passed amongst the crowd.

The business of masks

The city is facing an unprecedented shortage of masks and products like hand sanitizers and alcohol rubs.

"The media has created this hysteria that is driving up the cost of masks and sanitizers across the city," Rajesh Verma, a local pharmacist, told DW.

A man wearing a makeshift mask in Delhi. (DW/S. Chabba)

Locals are improvising in the face of mask shortages in the Indian capital.

Pointing towards empty shelves that were used to display hand sanitizers at his establishment, he said, "I get frantic phone calls in the middle of the night from people who are ready to pay Rs. 2000 ($27 or 25€) for a single bottle of hand sanitizer."

"Where do I get these products from? Suppliers are trying to profit from this situation."

"There have been cases of people picking up used masks outside big hospitals like AIIMS and simply washing them before selling them to panic-stricken citizens," he added. "This just increases the chance of other infections."

Read more: What travelers need to know about the coronavirus

Use of public transport

Nandini is a commuter traveling from the eastern suburb of Noida to Gurugram - southwest of Delhi - for work each day. Taxis can set her back by up to $20 for a journey that otherwise costs $0.80 by metro, she says. Until her office decides to implement work-from-home policies, she is ready to face the coronavirus scare to travel by metro.

While most people continue to commute to work using public transportation like the Delhi Metro, the Delhi government is taking additional steps to ensure the safety of passengers.

The Delhi metro, one of the most popular modes of transportation, has seen a sharp drop in fall in passenger numbers.

While the trains are cleaned before operations begin each morning, there are a lot more empty seats throughout the day. Security personnel at the stations can also be seen donning masks.

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Public monuments and parks see reduced crowds

The ruins of Hauz Khas are deserted. Squirrels play where college students and office workers regularly meet for a stroll during their lunch breaks.

The Archaeological Survey of India closed all national monuments and museums, including the Taj Mahal, as a preventive measure against coronavirus on Monday. But Delhi was already seeing a fall in the number of people going out for recreational activities at the city's parks and monuments.

Hauz Khas ruins in New Delhi (DW/S. Chabba)

Monuments and parks in the capital bear a deserted look as people try to take preventive measures against COVID-19.

Those who decided to step out were wearing masks and protective gear, routinely sanitizing their photography equipment in between taking pictures of their friends standing in front of the remnants of Islamic architecture.

While Whatsapp forwards claims that the SARS-CoV-2 threat may subside as the weather grows warmer, experts are not convinced.

"It is true that hotter temperatures mean less pollution and lesser respiratory problems. But the Covid-19 is a new virus, and its exact characteristics are not known to us. So we can only hope for the best, while preparing for the worst," said Professor K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

"Summer also means that there will be greater mobility among the public. With school vacations coming up, people are more likely to travel, which might be a risk. People should avoid smoking because that weakens lung capacity and is detrimental to any respiratory disorder. It's also important to stay hydrated and eat fresh fruits and vegetables to boost immunity," said Professor Reddy.

For an updated number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, you can access the official website of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare here.

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