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Delhi government seeks out private spaces for Covid-19 care; budget hotels, banquet halls ask for fair remuneration, staff safety


NEW DELHI: As Delhi gears up to double its testing capacity, district administration in the capital has intensified talks with owners of budget hotels and banquet halls for their spaces to be used for Covid-19 care, who in turn have requested a “fair deal” from the government on the use of their properties, and adherence to rules of regular disinfection on the premises.

On Tuesday, the Delhi government converted Taj Mansingh to a COVID care centre and attached it with Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. The government has also converted five other hotels into temporary medical stations to augment healthcare facilities, as cases of Covid-19 spike in the city.

On Monday, owners of budget hotels in their meetings with the district administration raised over 15 concerns, which include at least Rs 2,000 to Rs 4000 for a room in budget hotels as opposed to the Centre’s range of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000. They have also asked the government to provide disposable laundry and clothes for patients, separate rexine mattresses and ensure frequent disinfection of the rooms. They have asked for prices of dry-cleaning of curtains to be reimbursed and food to be outsourced from other places, apart from insurance and safety of their staff members. Timely release of payments for rooms, electricity, water, maintenance of AC, lifts, generators are the other requests made to the DMs.

A recent release by the association of Delhi Hotels and restaurants said it was “not advisable to use hotels as extended Covid hospitals due to the presence of air conditioning, lack of large lifts for stretchers, lack of bio-waste disposal and other reasons.”

Meanwhile, over the last two days, banquet hall owners have told the district administration that use of their facilities for covid-19 might affect their businesses even later, and hence, they should consider other options, such as converting community centres into isolation wards.

Of the 11 districts in Delhi, Northwest District will have the maximum banquet halls that will be turned into Covid-19 centres, while west District will have the maximum around 15 hotels. As of 12 banquet halls have been identified in North Delhi, mostly are on GT Karnal road, where 1,300 beds have already been put up on Monday and Tuesday. An official said a team was looking at arranging, “oxygen supply, patient monitoring devices and nurse call system,” in the banquet halls.

According to the instructions given to DMs, the banquet halls need to be in “less densely populated areas with no markets nearby, and with a decent approach road for an ambulance to move.” District administration officials have held meetings with banquet hall owners in North Delhi, and surrounding industrial estates, and also in Peeragarhi, Wazirpur, Nanak Nagar, Kirti Nagar and others places, apart from GT Karnal road, while budget hotels in all districts, except North East Delhi are being explored.

Administration officials said maximum resistance has come from banquet hall owners who among other reasons have also cited the stigma attached with Covid-19 as a reason that might affect their businesses even after the pandemic. They have also said lack of bathrooms for patients and almost no clarity over the disinfection process are the other concerns they have raised.

“We have lost business for three months already, and now when bookings for small functions had just started arriving, the government has announced that it wants to take over our space…We are concerned that people will not hold functions here even once the wedding season begins in October,” an owner of a banquet hall in GT Karnal road said. He added that many banquet halls pay upto Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 Lakh as rent every month, and the least the administration should do now is to take care of the electricity and water charges, and maintenance of ACs and inverters. “The pricing has to be decided after consulting with us as we have vendors, caterers and others dependent on us,” he added.

In their representation to government officials, they have said banquet halls do not have ramps to facilitate the movement of stretchers, and had “only four bathrooms for seventy people which won’t be sufficient.” There is no facility for any recreation, side tables for patients. We have also demanded to know why some banquet halls with more capacity have been left out. We want them to change all lights, and ACs after the use is over, as we will need to regain the confidence of people to safely hold their functions here,” an owner of a hall in west Delhi said.

They also said while the attached hospitals can ensure training of hotel staff in infection control practices, and provide Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for all its healthcare workers and hotel staff on Covid duty, it will be difficult for banquet halls to do the same, as many of them are far away from residential areas, closer to industrial zones. They have also said it was important to provide safety to their few staff members who have chosen to stay back, instead of going back to their villages.

District administration officials said they are in talks with owners of budget hotels and banquet halls to listen to their demands. An official in North West Delhi said his team was approaching the hotel and banquet owners directly without going through associations.

“Some of their fears are valid, which we are trying to address. This is a pandemic time, and we want to assure them their help will be valued. And that it is a question of just a few months,” he added. The border districts will also have to fulfil the demands of the densely populated ones in the city, he added. The government is also looking at hostels and PGs, and open spaces to fill in for the demand of beds, apart from two stadiums.

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had recently said that the city will need 1,50,000 beds by the end of July, and that hotels and banquet halls will continue to be closed as they will be used to add to the city’s health care infrastructure.

On Tuesday, a two-member committee – consisting of AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria and V K Paul, Member of the Niti Aayog – submitted its report before Justice Navin Chawla, saying that banquet halls can be appropriately equipped and converted into dedicated COVID health centres to supplement healthcare facilities for Covid-19 care.

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