Clamping down heavily on the fresh Covid surge, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday ordered massive state-wide restrictions beginning tomorrow, with closure of educational institutions till March 31 and restrictions on cinema/mall capacities.
All educational institutions, other than medical and nursing colleges, will remain closed till March 31, with restriction of 50% capacity in cinema halls and not more than 100 persons in a mall at any time. He appealed to the people to keep social activity in their houses to the bare minimum for the next 2 weeks to break the transmission chain. Not more than 10 visitors should be entertained in homes, he urged.
In the 11 worst-hit districts, a complete ban has been ordered on all social gatherings and related functions, except for funerals/cremations/ weddings, which will be allowed with only 20 persons in attendance. This will be enforced from Sunday. In these districts, which will remain under night curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m, the Chief Minister has ordered cinemas, multiplexes, restaurants, malls etc to remain closed on Sundays, though home deliveries will be allowed subject to night curfew. Industries and essential services shall be allowed to function, but barring these, all restrictions shall be strictly enforced, the Chief Minister directed the top civic and police officials in these districts.
Also, starting next week, one hour of silence will be observed across the state every Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon, in memory of those who lost their lives to Covid, with no vehicle to ply at this time. The Chief Minister asked the district administration to involve the general public, along with market committees, Sarpanches etc, in this initiative, which will, however, remain voluntary for them.
In the 11 worst affected districts of Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, SBS Nagar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Ropar and Moga, the Chief Minister ordered restrictions on in-person public dealings in government offices, with citizens to be encouraged to visit offices only for essential services. Captain Amarinder directed officials to encourage online and virtual modes for grievance redressal, and asked concerned departments to issue necessary instructions for limiting appointments per day for registries etc.
Though other districts will not be placed under such stringent restrictions for now, the Chief Minister ordered immediate reinforcement and strict monitoring of the strategy of micro-containment and containment zones where there are evident clusters. He made it clear that if necessary, strict curbs will also be imposed in other districts if the situation worsens and Covid protocols and norms are not adhered to be by the people.
The situation will be reviewed after two weeks, said the Chief Minister, chairing a meeting of the Covid Task Force with top officials.
Directing health officials to ramp up testing per day to 35,000, the Chief Minister said special focus should be on super spreaders, and Government employees, teachers in educational institutions, etc. must be tested routinely. RAT testing should be stepped up along with RTPCR testing, he ordered, while directing contact tracing and contact testing to be taken up to 30 per positive person. The CPTOs must personally monitor this task, he said.
The Chief Minister also directed the Department of Medical Education & Research to immediately complete recruitment of specialists/super-specialists.
Captain Amarinder said well-functioning hospitals, where serious cases are best handled, have been advised to restore the Covid beds and postpone elective surgeries.
The names of the COVID Monitors, who are appointed at every establishment and office- the names, should be available with the District Administration, along with their numbers, said the Chief Minister They shall be responsible for ensuring following of COVID Appropriate Behaviour at their organisations, he said, adding that the Departments of Labour; Excise and Taxation, among others, must assist the Deputy Commissioners to enforce these instructions.
Dr KK Talwar, who heads the state government’s expert team on Covid, said the surge in cases appeared to be the result of opening of schools and colleges, with young asymptomatic people appearing to be spreading the virus. There was no evidence as of now to show that the spike was due to the mutants, as only 2 cases of new strains had been found in Punjab so far. The state currently has almost 40% cases from under 30 population, he added.