Punjab CM urges Centre to review vaccination policy

With fresh upward trend in Covid cases, Captain Amarinder Singh asks Centre to vaccinate all age groups in selected areas

Punjab CM urges Centre to review vaccination policy

Bipin Bhardwaj

With daily Covid positive cases rising to over 5 per cent, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday urged the central government to review its immunization strategy and vaccinate all age groups in selected areas.

Singh suggested occupation-based immunization for school and college students and teachers, judges, bus drivers/conductors and public representatives at all levels to pave the way for normalization of crucial activities and check super-spreaders. He called for early opening of 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 protocols, large social and religious gatherings and efforts at normalization 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 a total of 1475 cases and 38 deaths on Monday, preceded by 1843 cases and 43 deaths the day before.

He pointed out that the state finance minister Manpreet Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal had also tested positive for Covid. “We are making a policy, we will get stricter from tomorrow,” he added.

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual Covid 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 5% in March from a low of less than 1% in January. So far, a total of 1.99 lakh positive cases had been reported from 54 lakh tests and 6099 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 2021.

With the role of virus mutation still unclear, the Chief Minster underlined the need to strengthen viral sequencing particularly in Punjab, “as over 50% 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 2 indicated presence of variant.

Capt. Amarinder Singh 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% healthcare workers and frontline workers have got the first dose. More than 1.10 lakh general public aged 60-plus and 45-plus with co-morbidities have taken first dose of vaccination. All public healthcare facilities up to PHC levels have started working as Covid Vaccination Centres, thereby making the facility available to the public in their vicinity, he disclosed, adding that all public health facilities have started vaccination on all 7 days of the week.

More private healthcare facilities are being motivated to work as COVID Vaccination Centres, said Singh. Further, anybody getting vaccinated is being given 10 tablets of paracetamol 650 mg for use in case of fever, mild body aches and malaise. Extensive social media campaign is being undertaken through Mission Fateh to address the mis-information regarding COVID and vaccination hesitancy, he further said.

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 pm to 5 am, while other districts have been asked to assess the situation and take action accordingly. The Excise and Taxation Department has been asked to appoint COVID Monitors at all Hotels, Restaurants and Marriage Palaces to ensure COVID Appropriate Behaviour, he said.

Further, the Punjab Police has intensified its campaign for taking action against people not following COVID appropriate behaviour, and a large number of challans have been issued and defaulters have been booked. All schools and Anganwadi Centres have been closed, while Health Care Workers, who have not got vaccinated, have been advised to get COVID tested weekly to ensure their safety and also the safety of the public as well.

On the Testing, the Chief Minister revealed that more than 30,000 COVID tests per day were being conducted by the State, of which more than 90% were through RT-PCR and less than 10% Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). Punjab’s testing per million has been maintained at higher than national average, he added.

Further, said the Chief Minister, all arrangements were in place for taking care of the affected. The state has 8,000 oxygen supported beds, more than 1,500 ICU beds, as well as around 800 ventilators for Level-2 and Level-3 COVID patients. Bed occupancy at present is between 10-15% at Level-2 and Level-3, he added.

The state government has engaged around 4,000 additional medical and paramedical manpower including 500 Medical Officers, 300 specialist doctors, 500 nurses and other paramedical staff in the last one year, Singh apprised the Prime Minister. All kinds of drugs and consumables required for management of COVID patients are available, including Remdesivir injection and other anti-viral drugs, he added. Also, 25 advanced life support and 300 basic life support ambulances are available for shifting of patients.

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