Amid the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in the state, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh told Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday that stricter curbs would be in place in Punjab from Thursday.
He was participating in the virtual Covid review meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. Sources said that the PM appreciated the efforts of the state government in handling the situation and enforcing curbs. He is learnt to have asked CMs of other states to follow in Punjab’s footsteps.
“We are making a policy, we will get stricter from tomorrow,” Amarinder told the PM.
The CM listed out the measures taken by his government to battle the ongoing second wave. He said that the state has imposed restrictions on social gatherings — maximum of 100 for indoor events and 200 for outdoor events. Nine districts have imposed night curfew from 11 pm to 5 am while other districts have been asked to assess the situation and take action accordingly. The Excise & Taxation Department has been asked to appoint COVID monitors at all hotels, restaurants and marriage palaces to ensure COVID-appropriate behaviour, a government statement quoted him as saying.
Further, the Punjab Police has intensified its campaign for taking action against people not following COVID-appropriate behaviour, and a large number of challans have been issued and defaulters have been booked. All schools and anganwadi centres have been closed while healthcare workers, who have not got vaccinated, have been advised to get tested for COVID weekly to ensure their safety and also the safety of the public as well.
In the VC with PM @NarendModi Ji, sought review of immunisation strategy to vaccinate all age groups in affected areas & also called for occupation-based immunisation. This will not only help in checking superspreaders but also the normalisation of critical activities. pic.twitter.com/XF2XOBEfNH
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) March 17, 2021
On testing, the CM said that more than 30,000 COVID tests per day were being conducted by the state, of which more than 90 per cent were through RT-PCR and less than 10 per cent via Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). Punjab’s testing per million has been maintained at higher than the national average, he added.
As active Covid cases in the state surged to 12,616, with daily positivity rate climbing to over 5 per cent, Amarinder urged the Centre to review its immunisation strategy to vaccinate all age groups in selected areas while announcing a stricter policy to deal with the problem.
The CM also called for occupation-based immunisation for school and college students and teachers, judges, bus drivers and conductors, panches/sarpanches, mayors/municipal committee presidents/councillors, MLAs, MPs to pave the way for normalisation of crucial activities and check super-spreaders. He advocated early opening of the courts to end the wait for justice for citizens, and also of schools and colleges to bridge the gap between poor and affluent families in terms of education.
Fatigue/laxity to be blamed
The CM blamed the surge in cases on fatigue/laxity in following COVID-appropriate behaviour, large social and religious gatherings, and efforts at normalisation such as opening of schools and colleges. Large positivity was seen in the state’s young population, he said. He said the trend was worrying as the state had reported a total of 1,475 cases and 38 deaths on Monday, preceded by 1,843 cases and 43 deaths the day before. He pointed out that State Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and SAD president Sukhbir Badal had tested positive for coronavirus.
Amarinder suggested that any area where weekly testing shows a doubling of positivity rate should immediately be considered for vaccination of all age groups. This, he said, would lead to better outcomes than the periodic cycles of vaccination targeting a small section of the population in each cycle. The daily positivity rate has climbed to more than 5 per cent in March from a low of less than 1 per cent in January. So far, a total of 1.99 lakh positive cases had been reported from 54 lakh tests and 6,099 people have died of the infection, he added.
Apart from covering the entire population in selected areas, certain co-morbidity situations among those below 45 years, such as kidney and liver diseases, should also be covered across the state, the CM recommended, as Punjab continued to grapple with its second peak, which started from mid-February 2021.
With the role of virus mutation still unclear, the CM underlined the need to strengthen viral sequencing particularly in Punjab, “as over 50 per cent positive cases now are below 40 years of age, and we need to urgently assess whether this is due to any variant”. The state, he said, had sent a large number of samples for genome sequencing but very few results had been received, of which two indicated presence of variant.
CM seeks funds
Amarinder again reiterated the demand for permission by the Centre to use the State Disaster Relief Fund, already available with the state, for COVID management. The Ministry of Home Affairs may issue the approval urgently, he stressed.
Talking about the progress on the vaccination front, he informed the meeting that more than 50 per cent healthcare workers and frontline workers have got the first dose. More than 1.10 lakh general public aged 60+ and 45+ with co-morbidities have taken first dose of vaccination. All public healthcare facilities up to PHC levels have started working as COVID vaccination centres, thereby making the facility available to the public in their vicinity, he said, adding that all public health facilities have started vaccination on all seven days of the week.
More private healthcare facilities are being motivated to work as COVID vaccination centres, said Amarinder. Further, anybody getting vaccinated is being given 10 tablets of Paracetamol 650 mg for use in case of fever, mild body aches and malaise. Extensive social media campaign is being undertaken through Mission Fateh to address the misinformation regarding COVID and vaccination hesitancy, he said.
Home Minister Amit Shah suggested that the state should increase the pace of vaccination and also formulate a separate strategy for districts with higher caseload.
Further, the CM said, all arrangements were in place for taking care of the affected. The state has 8,000 oxygen-supported beds, more than 1,500 ICU beds, as well as around 800 ventilators for Level-2 and Level-3 COVID patients. Bed occupancy at present is between 10-15 per cent at Level-2 and Level-3, he added.
The state government has engaged around 4,000 additional medical and paramedical manpower, including 500 medical officers, 300 specialist doctors, 500 nurses and other paramedical staff in the last one year, Captain Amarinder apprised the Prime Minister. All kinds of drugs and consumables required for management of COVID patients are available, including Remdesivir injection and other anti-viral drugs, he added. Also, 25 advanced life support and 300 basic life support ambulances are available for shifting of patients.
The Experts Group, headed by Dr K K Talwar, is holding review meetings at 7.30 pm daily through video conferencing with all Level-2 and Level-3 public and private healthcare facilities for effective management of COVID patients. Private hospitals managing Level-2 and Level-3 patients have been advised to postpone elective surgeries by two weeks with a view to creating more beds for COVID patients, the CM said.