Moving aggressively to counter the vicious propaganda launched in several villages against the state government’s Covid containment and management strategy, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday asked Congress Ministers and MLAs of the concerned constituencies to liaise with the villages on the ground to combat the negative campaign on testing and organ harvesting, which was actively being propagated by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The Chief Minister said AAP was spreading senseless fear in the minds of the villagers, thus deterring them from getting themselves tested for coronavirus and endangering their lives.
He also said his government would seek advice from the Government of India about the web channels that had mushroomed recently and were actively involved in spreading misinformation about the pandemic. Action will be taken against them, he added.
The Chief Minister was presiding over a high-level virtual meeting attended by several cabinet ministers and MLAs representing some of the constituencies where Gram Panchayats had purportedly passed resolutions against the state government’s Covid management programme. He shall be holding more rounds of similar meetings next week.
The Chief Minister said AAP had been promoting `no testing’ and an activist of their party had also been arrested for spreading false information on Covid testing/treatment. LIP leader Simrajit Singh Bains had also joined in creating an atmosphere of fear among the people by himself refusing to be tested and calling for no testing and no masks, he said.
Terming AAP’s announcement of distributing Oxymeters a political stunt, Captain Amarinder said Oxymeters had no connection with testing, and delay in the latter was the main reason for the state’s growing fatality rate. Given the pathetic Covid situation in Delhi, where AAP was in power, their pretension of being concerned about the people of Punjab was ridiculous, he said.
Stressing that the Oxymeters were no substitute for testing, the Chief Minister said blood Oxygen levels can fall very fast, so the only key to saving lives is early testing and diagnosis. He pointed out that 85% of all the infected patients recover, as long as they get themselves tested in time. Of the remaining 15% who have complications, only 5% need ICU or Oxygen support, he said, adding that the Oxymeters were being unnecessarily and wrongly hyped by AAP, in a bid to mislead the people.
AAP and people like Bains are not bothered about the lives of the people and are only concerned about taking political mileage from the crisis, said the Chief Minister, urging the elected representatives to mobilise and liaison with Panchayats to counter the false and mischievous propaganda. Sarpanches, Panches and local opinion makers should be asked to take the lead in getting themselves tested, he said.
Besides Health & Family Welfare Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and Rural Development & Panchayats Minister Tript Singh Bajwa, Medical Education & Minister OP Soni, other Cabinet ministers who attended the virtual meeting were Razia Sultana, Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Gurpeet Singh Kangar, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, and Vijay Inder Singla.
Tript Singh Bajwa told the meeting that there were, in fact, no formal resolutions passed by the Panchayats and there was hence nothing on record. Some miscreants had gathered and issued statements on behalf of the Panchayats in 42 villages, of which 22 were later withdrawn.Balbir Singh Sidhu said the miscreants got signatures from unsuspecting villagers and termed the statements as resolutions as part of a concerted campaign by some vested interests to spread misinformation. He stressed the need for the Cyber Crime Cell to actively trace the people spreading rumours on social media.
Vijay Inder Singla said web channels had been formed in various districts in support of the AAP propaganda and the Cyber Crime Cell needs to rein these in.Vidhan Sabha Speaker Rana KP Singh said the vicious campaign orchestrated by anti-social elements was misleading the people, with AAP leading the misinformation campaign. The campaign needed to be fought politically and administratively, he added.
Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Tript Bajwa underlined the need for educating the people and ensuring the best of care at hospitals for Covid patients to encourage them to come forward for testing and treatment. Health Minister Balbir Sidhu said CCTV cameras were being put at various places, including outside toilets, in hospitals to check for cleanliness as well as attendance of doctors and nurses in charge of patient care.
Rana Gurjit suggested increased connect of ministers and senior officials with the frontline workers and others on the ground to counter the AAP and SAD propaganda machinery that was working overtime to mislead the people. He suggested that the Health, Local Government and Rural Development Ministers should form joint teams to educate people.
Underlining the need to activate Congress workers to aggressively counter the AAP misinformation campaign, Fateh Bajwa also called for political leaders to step in to connect the Government with the people more effectively. While OP Soni said party workers had to be encouraged to combat the Opposition disinformation campaign, Sukhbinder Sarkaria suggested encouraging proper home quarantine for infected people in the villages itself to alleviate their fear of hospitalisation.
Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan too felt that with the political leadership coming out in support of the administration, the state government’s efforts to battle the pandemic would get a boost and it would also help dispel rumours. She apprised the meeting that both Rapid Antigen Tests and RT-PCR testing had been boosted and home isolation was being encouraged. Citing data, she said a total of 948 healthcare workers in the state had tested positive so far, with two deaths and one seriously ill. Around 700 had recovered while 245 were still in isolation, she said, adding that these healthcare workers needed to be encouraged through public appreciation of their good work.
PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar said whether or not a formal resolution had been passed by villages, the role of miscreants was definitely evident and a close watch should be kept on such elements. He underscored the coincidence between the deadly campaign and the AAP decision to distribute Oxymeters, saying this clearly indicated AAP role in the false propaganda.
Panchayats should be encouraged to propagate early testing and home quarantine, Jakhar said. The Punjab Congress president also lauded the excellent work done by the concerned departments and teams at hospitals in battling the pandemic and called for recognising the contribution of doctors and other health staff.
In a brief presentation, Health Secretary Hussan Lal said the vicious campaign to discredit the government’s efforts had impacted testing, which had gone down. With patients reporting late in tertiary care institutions, the number of deaths there had gone up, he said. The Secretary said the department was being liberal on home isolation to mitigate the fear of the patients and encourage people to get themselves tested.
Speaker Rana KP Singh, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar and MLAs Nazar Singh Mansahia, Kulbir Singh Zira, Hardial Singh Kamboj, Dalvir Singh Goldy, Surjit Singh Dhiman, Rana Gurjit Singh, Angad Saini and Fateh Singh Bajwa also participated, along with several senior officials.