Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain on Friday stressed on the need to wear masks, asking people to consider them as a vaccine against the coronavirus, reported ANI.

“When we had imposed the lockdown, cases did not go down,” the health minister said. “If 100% of people wear masks, Covid-19 infection can be controlled to a certain extent. [The] benefits of wearing masks are just as many as those of a lockdown, if not more. Until there is a vaccine, masks should be considered vaccines.”

Delhi recorded 5,739 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest number of daily cases reported for the second consecutive day since the pandemic began. The city now has total 3,75,753 cases. According to the health department bulletin, the positivity rate has jumped to 9.55% during the festival season and the rise in pollution level.

Jain said that wearing masks can protect people both from pollution and the coronavirus. Air pollution typically worsens during the winter months from October to December in Delhi. On Thursday, Delhi’s air quality fell to the “severe” category for the first time this season. A slight improvement was recorded on Friday as the air quality level dropped to the “very poor” category, data from the Central Pollution Control Board showed.

On a question about the bed occupancy, the health minister said 35% of the beds in Delhi hospitals were occupied. “We wanted to increase the number of beds but the High Court did not allow it,” he said. ‘We have asked for 80% of beds in private hospitals to be reserved for Covid-19 patients. That matter is being discussed in court.”

On Thursday, the minister said that it was too early to say if the record number of coronavirus cases in Delhi indicated the start of a third wave of infections.

Jain, however, claimed the steady rise in cases was expected. He said the government had already changed its strategy to meet the challenge. “Now, when a person tests positive, we also test his entire family and all his close contacts,” he added. “We do this not just once but twice – the second time after 4 to 5 days.”

The aim is to ensure that not even a single case is missed, Jain said. The Delhi government has cited its new strategy of aggressive contact tracing and testing as one of the reasons behind the sudden rise in the number of infections.