Chandigarh, (Raftaar News Bureau):
As Covid cases continue to rise rapidly across the country, including in Punjab, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday ordered stricter restrictions beginning tomorrow, including extension of night curfew timings (8 pm to 5 am), closure of all bars, cinema halls, Gyms, spas, coaching centres, sports complexes, with restaurants and hotels to be open only for takeaway and home delivery from Monday to Saturday.
Rates for RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) by private labs have been reduced to Rs 450 and Rs 300 respectively (with additional charges for home collection of the samples), in a bid to promote increased testing.
Gatherings of more than 20 persons, including for weddings/cremations, have also been banned across the state, with prior approval of the district administration needed for all gatherings of more than 10 persons, except for cremation.
The new restrictions, which also include closure of all malls, shops and markets on Sunday, coupled with the ones imposed earlier, will remain in effect till April 30, announced the Chief Minister, directing the Police department to strictly enforce the restrictions, taking support of civil society organisations where needed. All weekly markets have also ordered to be shut down.
Chairing a high level virtual meeting to review the Covid situation in the state, the chief minister also ordered that all people flying into Punjab should have a negative RT-PCR not more than 72 hours old, else they would have to undergo RAT testing at the airport. He also ordered that people who have attended large gatherings anywhere ( religious/ political/social) to be mandatorily home quarantined for 5 days and tested as per protocol.
The Chief Minister directed the transport department that number of people in buses/taxis and autos be restricted to 50% of the capacity.
In a bid to check inbound travellers, the Chief Minister also directed that Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) testing booths should be set up at bus stands and railway stations and all passengers checked. All eligible persons should be also vaccinating.
The Chief Minister rdered postponement of the recruitment exams for Patwaris and directed for Medical Education department to hold online examination for 1st, 2nd & 3rd year MBBS / BDS /BAMS and 1st year Nursing students.
The Chief Minister reiterated his appeal to all religious, social and political leaders to desist from organising large gatherings, encourage vaccination and motivate people for Covid appropriate behaviour, especially wearing of masks and avoiding gatherings.
Guardians of Governance and all ex-servicemen have been urged to take the lead in ensuring adherence to protocols.
He further said that military hospitals in the cantonments in Punjab had assured the state government of all possible help to tackle the surge, while private hospitals had already been directed to reserve 75% beds for Covid patients.
While reviewing the situation in private and government hospitals, the Chief Minister directed 75% reservation of L-3 facilities for Covid in all private hospitals providing critical Covid care. He said that no elective surgeries should be conducted in any government or private hospitals till May 15 and all OPD patients must be tested, besides encouraging them to get vaccinated.
The 104 Helpline shall function 24X7 to provide information on bed availability in government and private hospitals. Oxygen requirement and availability will be strictly monitored and ensured for both government and private hospitals by a Committee comprising PSIC, Direction Industry and MD, PHSC, while private hospitals will be supported in supply of essential medicines such as Remdesivir, Tocilizumab etc, for which MD, PHSC shall be the nodal officer. All elective surgeries in medical colleges also stand postponed for now.
The containment / micro-containment strategy was left to the DCs to decide, depending on the situation in their respective zones or areas.
The Chief Minister ordered ramp-up of tracing, and directed recruitment of manpower if needed, to handle the emergency situation. Health Minister Balbir Sidhu informed the meeting that DCs have been given Rs 1 crore each from SDRF for emergency use.
Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan said police personnel are being placed at the disposal of the Health Department, along with Education Department personnel including teachers, for more aggressive tracing of contacts of Covid positive persons.
Health Secretary Hussan Lal, in a presentation, said the state’s positivity rate was statis at around 7.8% but had shown a quantum jump thereafter, going up to 12.6% as of April 15, with Mohali being the worst hit at 36.53%. The spike, he said, could be attributed to the new variant, along with people coming back from large gatherings from outside Punjab.
The figure was expected to go up further with more testing, he said, adding that by 5th of May, the state was projected to report 6000 cases a day of urgent measures were not implemented in districts of Ludhiana, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Jalandhar , Amritsar and Patiala, which would be the drivers of the spike.
Dr KK Talwar, head of the Covid expert task force, said more restrictions were needed to check further surge, as the situation was worrying, given the way things had happened in Delhi, and with the virus clearly mutating. The strain seemed to be more aggressive, though it was still not known whether it was a double mutant or something else, he added.
DGP Dinkar Gupta said the entire force was being mobilised to enforce stricter measures, while contingency planning was being done to ensure that the department remains on top of the situation. Police nakas were being set up around malls and marriage palaces to check violation of the Covid restrictions, he said, adding that as many as 600 Covid monitors had been installed.