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'Rapid antigen tests more efficient to control spread'

Deputy CM Manish Sisodia says both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests have false negatives but RATs are more efficient to identify and isolate probable asymptomatics who could easily turn transmitters

Rapid antigen tests more efficient to control spread
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Starting from handling the health department when Health Minister Satyendar Jain tested positive to overseeing the Capital's economic recovery and evolving teaching methods suitable for adapting to a raging pandemic, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia speaks to Aaisha Sabir of Millennium Post on lessons from COVID-19, how to bring back the economy and the constant tussle with the L-G's office.

Excerpts:

The Delhi government has talked about its Mohalla Clinics for years now. During this pandemic, they were put to the test. Did you feel there are shortcomings in the Mohalla Clinics or what advantages did you have of having invested in it?

In the last five to six years, the amount we worked and invested in the health department really helped in handling the pandemic and Mohalla Clinics became the base for our planning. We had health centres set up, we had trained paramedics ready. Mohalla Clinic was not the answer to all the requirements but it was a key component during this pandemic. The set up of the Mohalla Clinic immediately helped us reach people on the ground level. The learning we had was that we were right in saying that the government of the day should heavily spend on health and education, this pandemic proved us right about that.

Your government has been vocal about testing, yet in the last few weeks RT-PCR tests have dipped significantly and rapid antigen tests (RATs) have increased. And given the high court's remarks on the false negativity of RATs, why is Delhi still not conducting RT-PCR at full capacity?

Both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests (RATs) have chances of false negatives. What we have observed is that rapid antigen tests have less than 30 per cent false-negative rate. The benefit is that results are available within hours but in RT-PCR test, results take a minimum of one day at the least. For patients who are admitted to hospitals, their RT-PCR tests are being done and their results will come in a day or two, but people who have mild symptoms and are going about their work, their results, if it comes days later, they would have infected more people (in the meantime). Hence, Rapid Antigen tests are better in that matter as the results are out within hours and the person can isolate or go for treatment.

Given the pandemic, Delhi government schools have started online classes but you have mentioned that around 10-15 percent of students have been left out of these classes this year. How do you plan to provide education to them?

All the online class students also have a semi-online class available in which every teacher in his or her class personally approaches those students who do not have access to online classes and provides them with study material. We are giving out worksheets and study material to those who are left out of the online classes. Apart from that, there are students who are not present at the mentioned addresses or have gone back to their home town and their contact numbers are unavailable or unreachable. We have sent people to their homes and not found them at the given address. Such students could belong to migrant workers or it could be a lack of data too. We found that around 30 per cent of the students who are missing out on online classes belong to class 6 and came from one of the MCD schools. There are shortcomings in the MCD school data and because of which we are unable to trace the children to the mentioned address. We are trying to reach out to such children and provide them with the semi-online teaching method.

Since you mentioned MCD schools, teachers have threatened to go on strike if they are not paid pending salaries. How would you tackle the situation?

It is simple, if they (civic bodies) cannot run the MCD schools then they can hand it over to Delhi Government. We are ready to take it over. But they should decide because the Delhi Government has been paying all their dues. Now it is up to those who are running the MCDs - how they want to deal with it. If they cannot handle it then they should give it to us.

Delhi Government-funded DU colleges have also been unable to pay salaries to their staff. What do you have to say about that?

DU is, unfortunately, doing a lot of politics and corruption. Yesterday also I gave out data about how they have more than doubled their budget and we have sanctioned the fund every year and despite that, they are saying they do not have money. That is not possible. Where is the money going? They should first give a breakdown of the expenditure. We have passed orders to audit these colleges to find out where have they spent. I also want to know where the money is going.

What do you plan to do if you find discrepancies in the audit findings?

Audit results will take time but we will take strict action against any form of corruption. If you look at DU's last year's budget (2019-20) which was of Rs 242.64 crore, it was adequate to meet all their expenses and the year before that (2018-19) of Rs 216.13 crore which was adequate to meet their expenses then. If you could manage a year in Rs 216 crore and you did not have complaints then next year we give you Rs 242 crore and yet you do not pay salaries, it is a clear indication of corruption.

Be it with respect to decisions on handling the pandemic like opening hotels and gyms or the north-east Delhi riots, the Delhi government and L-G have had incessant tussles these few weeks. Why is it there seems to be no end to this?

The CM's approach is that for the benefit of the people, he can take on anyone but only for the benefit of the people. In the case of having best lawyers in the north-east riots case, he wants the best for the people and similarly in the hotels and gyms issue. The CM is keen for hotels to open up. Why shouldn't Delhi's hotels open when the entire country's hotels have been allowed to function. Weekly markets should also open as lakhs of people have been affected by it and have lost their jobs when it was shut down. If the rest of the country can open them then why stop weekly markets and gyms in Delhi only. This shows that their intentions are not good.

Do you see the Delhi Government and L-G reaching a middle ground on these issues?

Ultimately, the L-G has to decide. These issues can't be endless and go on forever. They have to take a call.

Before turning down Delhi Police's lawyers, the Cabinet held a meeting on it. Did the Cabinet not realise that the L-G would likely turn down its decision? If so, why still go through with it?

Approving of our lawyers is our right. For L-G, if it is some minister's decision then it holds another meaning and if it is a Cabinet decision then some other value it has. A cabinet decision obviously holds more weightage. We were expecting that if L-G is not convinced by a minister's decision then he may be convinced by the Cabinet's decision. The Cabinet has more weightage and more power, so L-G should respect the Cabinet's decision, that is how democracy works.

You have been vocal about the new NEP and said that it has good vision but lacks a clear roadmap. If given a freehand what would you change in it?

First of all, I would like to write in the NEP that education is the responsibility of the state government, obviously central too. It is mandatory through RTE to provide education to all the students in the entire country. It is our responsibility to provide good and quality education to all students through government schools and after that, if someone wants to send their child to private schools, then they can — that should be our policy. Secondly, if we provide quality education to all, then a minimum of 6 percent of the GDP should be allocated for education and we should make it enforceable through the law. NEP cannot just mention that 6 percent of GDP "should be" allocated. The language of "should be", we should do away with it. NEP should enforce the state governments to pass the law thus making 6 percent of GDP for education (mandatory). Central and state governments should make a law making this the minimum budget for education although there can always be more.

The good things mentioned in NEP should be narrated in a timeline format. In order to achieve a certain goal, a timeline should be stated that it will be achieved in a certain number of days using specific steps. Certain projects can be achieved in 10 years, certain in two years these timelines should be clearly specified. For example, in early childhood care you say that you want to improve it but how can you do it without planning it?

Planning is not possible without a proper timeline. In order to provide early childhood care to let's say 15-20 crore children in the country, you would have to decide how many teachers would be required to achieve that. You would have to decide despite your constraints, how many teachers you would require to teach such a large number of small children. Let us say you require 10 lakh teachers. Then by the end of the next five years, you would have to take steps to equip and prepare 10 lakh teachers. After that only can you ensure early childhood care to all the children. This has to be mentioned clearly in the NEP. You cannot compare a child who has studied in an Anganwadi and a child who has studied in Nursery in a school — there is no equality. These are the major changes that I would like to bring.

When do you expect the economy of the city to bounce back to pre-covid times?

It will not come back in many years now. It is not about government revenues only anymore. The losses we have all incurred in the last four to five months are way beyond the amount we can bounce back (from). For the first time, we witnessed a complete lockdown, planes were grounded all over the world, each and every market was closed in the country.

If and when the economy does improve, what are the first few infrastructure projects or any project the Delhi government will work on?

Delhi is a consumption market starting from automobiles, service sector, e-commerce, electronics to food and beverages. They are some of the key sectors in Delhi's economy. As things start opening up and consumption goes up, jobs will be available as well.

New projects are not possible, we are struggling with existing projects now.

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