As active Covid-19 cases in the state surged to 12,616, with daily positivity rate climbing to over five per cent, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday urged the Centre to review its immunization strategy to vaccinate all age groups in selected areas, while announcing a stricter policy to deal with the problem.
The Chief Minister also called for occupation-based immunization for school and college students and teachers, judges, bus drivers and conductors, etc., 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.
The Chief Minister blamed the surge in cases on laxity in following COVID appropriate behaviours, 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 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 also tested positive for coronavirus. “We are making a policy, we will get stricter from tomorrow,” he added.
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual Covid-19 review meeting with chief ministers of all states, Amarinder Singh suggested that any area where weekly testing shows a doubling of positivity rates 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 at each cycle.
The daily positivity rate has climbed to more than five per cent in March from a low of less than one per cent in January.
So far, 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 Chief Minister recommended, as Punjab continued to grapple with its second peak, which started from mid-February.
With the role of virus mutation still unclear, the Chief Minster 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 disclosed, had sent a large number of samples for genome sequencing but very few results had been received, of which two indicated presence of variant.
Amarinder Singh 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, Government of India 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 public aged 60 plus and 45 plus with co-morbidities have taken first dose of vaccination.
More private healthcare facilities are being motivated to work as vaccination centres, said Amarinder Singh.
Listing out the measures taken by his government to battle the ongoing second wave, the Chief Minister revealed 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 p.m. to 5 a.m., while other districts have been asked to assess the situation and take action accordingly.
On the testing, the Chief Minister revealed that more than 30,000 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 Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).
Punjab’s testing per million has been maintained at higher than national average, he added.