With 33 new deaths due to coronavirus disease (Covid-19) reported in Delhi on Sunday, the total number of people who have lost their lives to the viral infection in the Capital crossed the 10,000 mark – becoming only the fourth state in the country to do so.

As of Sunday, the infection has killed a total of 10,014 people from the 607,454 people infected so far, according to government health bulletin.

The grim landmark, however, comes at the time when the outbreak in the city appears to be under control for the third time. Sunday’s new deaths were the lowest single-day fatalities reported in Delhi in 45 days, or since October 29, when 27 new deaths were reported.

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The hospital bed occupancy is lowest in three months, according to state health minister Satyendar Jain. Of the total 18,807 hospital beds earmarked for Covid patients in Delhi, 4,446 are occupied as on Sunday. “Delhi has the least case fatality ratio at 1.6, comparatively, Ahmedabad is at 4.0, Mumbai at 3.8, Kolkata at 2 and Chennai at 1.8. Because of improved health infrastructure and continued monitoring of home isolation, Delhi has been able to achieve 96% recovery rate,” Jain said in a tweet on Sunday.

In absolute numbers, however, Delhi remains one of the worst-hit regions in the country. For every million residents, the Capital has seen 505 people die from the viral infection – twice the national average (110 deaths per million population).

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Delhi’s case fatality rate (CFR) — the proportion of confirmed cases that have died due to the disease — is 1.65%, significantly higher than the national CFR of 1.45%. Among the major states, only four — Punjab (CFR of 3.17%), Maharashtra (2.57%), Gujarat (1.84%) and West Bengal (1.74%) — have seen a higher proportion of those infected die from the disease.

On average, 53 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 every day in the past week. This is the lowest the seven-day average of deaths has been in 37 days (since November 6). At the peak of the third wave, which is currently ebbing, 116 people were dying every day on average in Delhi for the week ending November 24. This was the highest death rate since mid-June (to be sure, deaths in this period were artificially inflated as Delhi retrospectively added fatalities that had been erroneously not attributed to Covid-19, according to the Delhi government). Since then, however, as cases have declined, deaths have been falling as well.

Delhi, which was one of the earlier hot spots for India’s outbreak is the only region in the country that has seen three distinct waves of infections. The first started in mid-June, and peaked when the seven-day average of daily cases touched around 3,400 in the last week of June. This receded by the end of July when it dropped to around 1,000 daily cases. The second wave started at the end of August, rising until mid-September, when average daily cases touched 4,174 for the week ending September 17. This again dropped to 2,574 in the week ending October 9, before the onset of the third wave. The third wave raged through October and November, leading to the largest surge seen so far. The seven-day average of new cases peaked on November 14, when it touched 7,341 – the highest recorded so far. Since then, however, cases have started receding almost steadily.

A Delhi government spokesperson said: “The people of Delhi have fought a courageous fight against Corona over the last 9 months. At 1.65%, Delhi’s fatality rate is the lowest among all large cities in India. The credit goes entirely to our Corona warriors — our doctors, nurses, paramedics and all health officials who have worked day and night over the last 9 months to save countless lives.”

Experts say that Delhi’s low hospital occupancy means that better care can be provided to patients that are critical, which means that the number of deaths may remain low in the coming weeks.

“The number of deaths recorded per day is slowly going down now. And it should be seen with other parameters such as increased tests, lower number of new cases surfacing each day and the low positivity rate. Overall, it shows that the situation has improved. It is likely to witness further improvement in the weeks to come. Low occupancy rate of hospital beds also reflects that number of severe cases which requires the patients to be hospitalised are decreasing,” Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the community medicines department in Safdarjung Hospital, said.

Delhi, however, remains one of the most fatal Covid-19 regions in the country as experts attributed the relatively high CFR to factors like poor air quality which can worsen the impact of respiratory disease like Covid.

“Compared to other metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bengaluru, etc. Delhi has a bad air quality problem, which contributes to respiratory diseases. This year, the festive season, which witnessed massive crowds across the city, coincided with the bad air-quality days. That period also witnessed extremely high number of cases, which eventually led to an increase in the death numbers. Secondly, Delhi also witnessed high number of cases arriving from other states. Most such cases were severe and they arrived very late. Such cases contributed to high death toll in the city. But the situation seems much better now,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases department at the Indian Council of Medical Research.

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