Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday ordered strict enforcement with regard to the compulsory wearing of masks in public, and asked the police to take stringent action, including imposition of challans, against violators.Chairing a Video Conference to review the COVID-19 situation in the state, the Chief Minister made it clear that no compromise would be allowed and every citizen would have to mandatorily wear a mask when stepping out of home, in order the check the spread of the deadly pandemic. He directed the police to challan those found moving around without masks (home-made or otherwise) in public places, under the provisions of the Epidemic Act. He underlined the need for 100% adherence to the orders on compulsory wearing of masks in public.The Chief Minister also issued strict directives for protection of all employees on the frontline of COVID-19 duty, including health, agriculture, police and revenue department staff, in the light of the death of a Kanungo. They should be provided PPT kits and other necessary protective gear, he said, while ordering strict adherence to the guidelines issued by the state’s expert medical committee for the protection of workers.ACS Vini Mahajan, who heads the Procurement Committee for COVID-19 related purchases, told the VC that there was no shortage now of such equipment in the state, and all employees/staff working on the battle frontlines would be taken care of. Giving details, she disclosed that of the 4.5 lakh PPE kits ordered, 26,500 had been received so far, with 30000 more expected to come between now and next week. In addition, there were sufficient stocks of masks, gloves etc, she added.The Chief Minister said there could be no compromise on the lives of the people and the government’s priority continues to be on saving and protecting the citizens of Punjab. “I can get a factory started again but cannot bring a Punjabi back to life,” he said.
Captain Amarinder directed the Health Department to launch rapid testing in all the 24 containment zones of the state. Four Punjab districts (Jalandhar, Pathankot, Nawanshahr and SAS Nagar) have been declared hotspot districts as per the Union Health Ministry. The state had so far been conducting these tests in Jalandhar and SAS Nagar.Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal said as part of the combat strategy, the department was putting all the 24 containment zones in the state on the COVA app, with no services to be allowed to operate in these areas. The number of ventilators in government medical colleges was being ramped from 102 to 220, he further said.Vini Mahajan informed the VC that the state had earlier received 1000 of the 1,01,000 lakh Rapid Diagnostic Kits (RDKs) ordered from ICMR, with another 10000 received today. The 10,000 kits ordered from private vendors were expected to start coming from April 18. The number of rapid tests conducted in the state were increasing by the day, she said.Of the 527 rapid tests conducted with the 1000 kits received till yesterday, only 7 were found positive, said Vini, adding that all these tests were conducted in the Jalandhar and SAS Nagar districts. Samples of positive IgM cases were sent for RT-PCR testing for further confirmation, and one of the results from Mohali came out negative, while the others were awaited, she added.Vini said the state was geared up for the next 30 days, and preparing for a projected spike. The local private manufacturers were supporting the government with `Make in Punjab’ initiatives that had led to several companies in the state getting approvals for PPE kits, masks etc, so that the state had no shortage of essential medical equipment, she added.Currently, the state has 1900 Oxygen cylinders available for use, while 1200 more have been tied up from various agencies. It is proposed to procure 2000 more cylinders for which the requirement is being sent to NHM, said Vini.Expressing concern over incidents of family members not willing to cremate victims of the Coronavirus, the Chief Minister directed the Health Secretary to ensure that all guidelines for the management of the bodies of the deceased, and for their cremation, are strictly complied with, in line with the protocols provided for COVID-19 safety. The Health Secretary informed the Chief Ministers that all guidelines were being strictly implemented, including covering the bodies in plastic and submerging them in bleaching powder/ solution. If the family is not come forward for the cremation, or there is no claimant after 48 hours of death, then the local administration has been mandated to take care of it, he said.
In response to a query from the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh said the 20-member Expert Committee set up to formulate the state’s exit strategy had held two meetings and would submit its report in a week’s time. To meet the shortage of technicians in virology, GADVASU and Punjab Agri Universities were making their technical staff available, and the government was also going in for outsourcing, said the Chief Secretary.Health Minister Balbir Sidhu disclosed that normal OPDs had started functioning in most hospitals to take care of non-COVID patients.Dr Raj Bahadur, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Vice Chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Science in Faridkot, informed the meeting that by Monday, another lab would start testing in Faridkot, to further scale up the state’s testing capacities. Capacities had already been increased at GMC Patiala & Amritsar and testing has also started at DMCH Ludhiana, while PGI Chandigarh has agreed to accept 60 samples daily from Punjab instead of the earlier 40. IMTECH Chandigarh, which is also set to start testing, will also take samples from Punjab, which has also formulated a Pool Testing Strategy. The state is also pushing for approval for testing at the Christian Medical College (CMC) Ludhiana, which is expected to come in next week.Earlier, the meeting was informed by Dr KK Talwar, the state government’s advisor on health issues, that under Operation Fateh, launched in the state a month and a half ago by the Health Department against the COVID-19 crisis, Tracing, Tracking and Testing (TTT) had been significantly ramped up in recent days. As part of the House to House search of symptomatic (fever/cough) by health workers, ~ 15,000 people were being contacted every day, across the state. In addition, identification of New Clustering & Containment Activity was being done all over state as per GoI guidelines. Around 1000 cases of all Influenza- like illnesses (ILI) from records of hospital OPDs were being checked every day, along with 20 cases of severe acute respiratory illnesses (SARI) hospital IPD.On the high mortality rate in the state, Dr Talwar told the Chief Minister that it was on account of the higher prevalence of comorbidities / High Risk Factors in the state, as well as the higher footfall of international tourist/NRIs, among other factors.