Patients halved at out-patient clinics of Delhi’s leading hospitals on Friday and Saturday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday evening urged people not to go to hospitals for routine check-ups.

At the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the out-patient clinics saw more than 5,800 people on Friday, which is almost half of the number of the close to 11,000 patients last Friday. Around 50% of patients who go for treatment at AIIMS are from outside Delhi.

On Saturday, when out-patient clinics in government hospitals run till 1 pm, the clinics were even more deserted than the day before.

Hospitals also cancelled all non-emergency surgeries beginning Friday to decongest hospitals and free up resources, including beds and health workers. All Delhi government hospitals were also directed to cancel all such non-emergency procedures from Saturday.

India has recorded 258 Covid-19 cases and four deaths so far.

“In such times of crisis, we also need to be aware that the burden on our essential services, our hospitals, is continuously increasing. I urge you to as much as possible, avoid going to the hospital for routine check-ups,” Prime Minister Modi said in his address to the nation.

A person at the out-patient department registration counter at AIIMS said, “There has been a decline in the number of patients coming into the hospital for a few days now. I think they are scared of the coronavirus. And the PM’s speech must have convinced many others to stay home.”

Sharda Devi, 57, who had accompanied her son, Santosh, to the hospital on Friday, said that she had heard the PM’s address but it was necessary for them to come. “I saw what he said about this infection Corona on TV yesterday, but today he was scheduled for dialysis. So we had to come even though we were scared,” she said. Both were wearing cloth masks.

In fact, every other person in the hospital had a mask.

Ganesh Shah, 64, bought one outside the hospital. “I have heard about this new corona infection. I had covered my face with a gamchha in the morning. Here I found a guy selling masks and bought one. Now I will wear it at home too. What if this infection might come to Bihar too?” he said. He travelled from Patna for his appointment for an assessment of his stomach cancer. Bihar has not reported any positive case of the infection.

A day before the PM’s address, the AIIMS started sending messages to its patients with an appointment for the next one month saying, “In view of the increasing threat of corona infection, you are requested to postpone your appointment at AIIMS if it is not urgent in nature. This is for your safety and good health.”

One of the staff members at the medicine clinic said, “There has been a decline in the number of patients coming to the hospital in the last two days. Today, it is almost half; almost all the patients received consultations by 12 o’clock. This place is usually packed till 2 o’clock.” Earlier this week, other hospitals had also started taking measures to curtail the number of people coming to the hospital.

“When necessary, you could get the required guidance over phone from your known local doctor, family doctor, or some relative who is a doctor. In case you have a non-essential, elective surgery scheduled, I would urge you to postpone it by a month,” the PM had said in his address.

AIIMS performs around 100 routine surgeries across departments in a day, with the waiting period for surgeries varying from a month to a year.

Safdarjung hospital across the street performs at least 50 surgeries a day. The hospital had cancelled all non-emergency surgeries two days ago and the out-patient clinics were restricted from Thursday. The hospital cut the registration time for the clinics by one and a half hours and closed its geriatric out-patient department for older patients.

Satendra Singh, 62, travelled from South East Delhi’s Jaitpur to get his swollen and painful leg checked out on Friday. “Today, there were only seven other people waiting in the queue with me. Usually, it is full,” he said. He was wearing a mask that his son got from his company.

Ajay Kumar, whose entire family were wearing masks, said, “I heard the PM. I wouldn’t have come, but my gall stone surgery was scheduled for today. I called the helpline number to check whether the date will be changed, but no one answered. So I came with my parents to check,” he said.

At central Delhi’s Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital, the out-patient departments and surgeries have not been cancelled or curtailed but announcements are being made asking people to come to the hospital only in the case of an emergency. “This has resulted in a decline in the number of patients over this week, reducing by almost 50% today,” said a hospital official, on condition of anonymity.

Safdarjung and RML hospitals are the nodal centres for the treatment of Covid-19 in the city.

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