Biomedical waste a concern amid soaring Covid-19 cases

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With the number of Covid-19 patients in Delhi under home isolation increasing sharply over the past couple of weeks, the city’s municipal corporations have restructured their biomedical waste collection programmes to meet hygiene and safety standards required to keep residents andcivic workers safe. However, concerns over the mixing of contaminated waste and general municipal waste, as well as the lack of safety equipment among sanitation workers continue to remain a key concern among unions and organisations working with informal waste pickers.

According to the health bulletin issued by the Delhi government on Sunday, more than 35,000 Covid-19 patients in Delhi were isolating at home.

A senior official from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s (SDMC) sanitation department said that the under the third wave action plan, the civic body has deployed one vehicle for each of the 104 wards under the corporation to collect biomedical waste from homes with Covid-19 patients.

“Duty charts for each ward have been released and a nodal officer has been deployed at the zonal level to coordinate the collection of biomedical waste. The collection is taking place according to the lists provided by the district surveillance officers,” he added.

Chhail Bihari Goswami, leader of the House, North Delhi Municipal Corporation said the civic body is deploying auto-tippers to collect contaminated waste at the zonal level.

Bir Singh Panwar, chairman of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) standing committee said a team of a public health inspector, area malaria inspector, a domestic breeding checker and sanitation worker have been deputed to collect biomedical waste from homes where Covid-19 patients are isolating.

“An adequate number of personal protection equipment (PPE) kits, safety gear and yellow waste collection bags for contaminated waste have been provided to these teams. The collected waste will be taken to Swami Dayanand Hospital, where it will be incinerated,” he added.

“The deputy health officer will share the details and addresses of Covid-19 patients with the sanitation inspector every day,” he said.

Guidelines issued by the central anti-pollution body mandate that biomedical waste generated during the treatment of Covid-19 patients be treated and disposed off in accordance with the Biomedical Waste Management Rules (2016).

Reports by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed that Delhi produced around 18.79 tonnes of Covid-related biomedical waste in May last year, amid the fourth wave of infections. This fell to 7.6 tonnes a day in June, as the fourth wave subsided. It dropped further to 3.55 tonnes a day the month after that.

However, staffers and resident welfare groups have flagged concerns over the safety of frontline workers engaged in collecting biomedical waste from homes where Covid-19 patients are isolating.

Chetan Das Chavaria, who heads the Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Parshad, a sanitation workers union, said waste collectors and sweepers are at the frontline of hygiene operations and face the risk of contracting the infection.

“We cannot work from home. It is a 24-hour risk to our families too. The administration should at least provide safety gear and mark the home isolation houses separately,” Chavaria said.

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