Punjab govt staff to be sent on leave for vaccine hesitancy

Punjab government employees failing to take even the first dose of Covid vaccine for any reason other than medical will be compulsorily sent on leave after September 15.

This strong measure was announced on Friday by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to protect the people of the state from the disease, and to ensure that those who are vaccinated do not have to pay the price for continued vaccine hesitancy of those who are not.

At a virtual Covid-19 review meeting, the Chief Minister said vaccine effectiveness is evident from the data being analysed. Special efforts were made to reach out to the government employees, and those who continue to avoid getting vaccinated will now be asked to go on leave till they get the first dose.

Amarinder Singh also allowed teaching and non-teaching school staff who had taken at least one dose of vaccine more than four weeks ago to resume duties, subject to submission of weekly RT-PCR negative test reports. However, all those with co-morbidities shall only be allowed once they are fully vaccinated, he added.

School Education Secretary Krishan Kumar earlier pointed out that currently only fully vaccinated staff members are allowed to come to schools.

Health Minister Balbir Sidhu suggested that the gap for the second dose be reduced for the school staff to 28 days but Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan informed the meeting that the Centre had rejected the state’s request to allow them to be treated as essential services.

The Chief Minister noted with satisfaction that with aggressive testing, the situation in schools had remained under control.

As many as 321,969 school students along with 33,854 teaching and non-teaching staff samples have been taken in the month of August, across 5,799 schools, and a total of 158 cases have tested positive so far, which accounts for a positivity rate of only 0.05 per cent, he added.

Citing the latest zero-survey, he revealed that for children in the age group of 6-17 years, the positivity was at 60 per cent, and it was higher in the age bracket of 14-17 years.

It was spread equally across gender and place of residence, as per the survey, which has confirmed “that our children, even though affected by Covid, have remained largely safe from serious disease,” noted the Chief Minister.

The Health Minister urged the Chief Minister to ensure availability of sufficient vaccines to ensure vaccination of all eligible people before the festivals.

The Chief Minister said he will pursue the matter with the Union Health Minister, who had earlier assured him of additional supplies. He directed the Health Department to ensure that all staff at sweet shops, kiosks, dhabas, etc., are vaccinated with at least one dose.

Noting that the state had already vaccinated more than 57 per cent of the eligible population, with the first dose administered to 1.18 crore and second to 37.81 lakh people, Amarinder Singh ordered further intensification of the vaccination drive.

Teachers, parents of young children and vendors should be given priority for inoculation against Covid, he directed.

The Chief Minister expressed satisfaction at the fact that the vaccine stocks supplied to the state had been utilised without any wastage.