Holder of multiple portfolios including health, industry, home and transport, Satyendar Jain is a busy and key figure in the AAP government. The last year tested him and his party, as Delhi witnessed several peaks during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the process of restarting and rebuilding underway, Jain has his hands full. From managing the crisis, dealing with political adversaries, urban development to expansion plans of the party, the minister gets candid on a wide range of issues. Excerpts from the interview:
It’s been a year since the first Covid-19 case in Delhi. How would you describe this period in terms of governance and management? What were the highs and the lows?
2020 was totally a ‘corona year’. Not just Delhi or India, but globally. The fight the Delhi government undertook to combat the virus was commendable. We can say that the pandemic is largely under control.
What were the initial challenges of coping with the pandemic?
Initial challenge was knowing about the virus. No one had faced the spread of coronavirus. 1918 was the last time when a pandemic had occurred. There were no proofs or theories to explain Covid-19. Initially, it was said that the impact of the virus will restrain with the rise in temperature. Delhi touched 40 degrees, but it didn’t happen. It was also believed that with the lockdown, cases won’t surge and it will come to an end. So pattern of the spread of virus was not clear to anyone. Another challenge was treatment, which is still not there. First priority was how to contain it.
Initially, the government was coming up with multiple orders in a day. It appeared the authorities were in a confused state and on experiment mode...
That’s because no one had a clear vision about controlling the pandemic and behaviour of the virus. There is still no proper medicine. The Delhi government was proactive. We came up with daily orders. We can proudly say whatever initiatives we took were adopted by others. Take for example plasma therapy. It is in Delhi where plasma therapy was started first across the world. In July, plasma bank was set up. It was then adopted by the US government. Home isolation was our idea. We decided to roll out the policy of keeping asymptomatic positive patients at home. Had we not started it, probably we would have failed to manage the cases. Had we stuck to fix protocols, we might have failed. We even had over 8,500 cases a day and it was not possible to admit all in hospitals.
You have always been tight-lipped about community spread...
No, I have never been tightlipped. I have always spoken about community spread.
But you have maintained that the Centre has to declare about community spread…
In Delhi, there has been community spread. In the last sero survey, 56 per cent of residents had antibodies. But the Centre does not agree over community spread. I think they will when the figures cross 150 per cent (with a smirk). When the number of cases was 100, it was pandemic. Now that cases have crossed a crore, they (Centre) are not saying anything on community spread. I don’t know why they have not accepted the community spread fact.
Do you think cases could have been fewer had the government adopted some extra measures in the beginning?
I don’t think so. We took every possible measure that was needed and all were correct decisions. Lately, people have started taking precautionary measures seriously and wearing masks properly. That has brought a change.
In terms of the Centre’s involvement in managing the crisis in Delhi, they were deeply involved particularly during the first and third peak...
What exactly was their involvement? They held a meeting when cases were already seeing a downward trend. I knew that the peak was over. Even they (Centre) were aware of it. And after that one meeting (during the third wave), they disappeared. There were no more meetings on Covid management. I was told that November 10 was the peak. They held the meeting around November 14 or 15, but what was the impact of that meeting?
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