A DAY after Punjab recorded its steepest spike with 105 new coronavirus patients, 98 of them of returnees from other states, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh addressed the people of the state on Friday and asked them not to panic.
“I know the cases have gone up because of these returnees. But there is nothing to panic. We are getting everybody tested and quarantined. I assure you that nobody will be allowed to get into your villages without being quarantined for 21 days. I have asked for everyone entering the state to be in institutional quarantine,” he said.
The CM said more Punjabis would enter the state from other parts of the country. He expressed displeasure over some people “sneaking in” from Haryana and Rajasthan’s borders. Appealing to them to follow the rules, he said, “Do not be scared of quarantine. It is a way to keep your folks at home safe, your neighbours and your state safe. Do you want to bring them in harm’s way?”
A poorly planned influx of about 7,000 pilgrims, students and labourers from other states has shattered Punjab’s aim to flatten the COVID-19 curve, even though it was the first state in the country to clamp down a stringent curfew.
Despite being under curfew for 39 days, the state recorded its steepest spike of 167 cases in a day on Thursday. Of these 167, 149 testing positive after coming from outside.
The pilgrims traveled over 50 hours to reach Punjab. Many returnees tested positive only after returning home.
The threat is not over. As the state has a capacity of 1200 samples, as confirmed by Medical Education Research Minister O P Soni, the returnees are being quarantined together as they wait to get tested. This could spread the infection to those who have not caught it yet.
As of Thursday, 3,525 pilgrims from Hazur Sahib in Nanded, Maharashtra, and 153 students from Kota, Rajasthan, had returned to Punjab over the last 4 days. In addition, 3,085 labourers had returned from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Test reports of 577 pilgrims have come out so far. The government said 20 per cent of these 577 have tested positive.
Punjab already has a poor recovery rate and the highest death rate in the country. So far, only 104 have recovered and there are over 400 active cases in the state. Almost 200 cases have been recorded in two days alone. As patients in Punjab have recovered between 10 -30 days, the state cannot be expected to be COVID-19 free at least for a month.
What spurred the influx
Amid questions being raised about how the state facilitated the entry of 7,000 people without getting them tested, a credit-war between Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Amarinder is being blamed.
While Harsimrat was raising the issue of the pilgrims stuck at Hazur Sahib in Nanded and taking it up with the Centre, the state government went ahead and made a hurried plan to get them back.
As it was getting the pilgrims back, it had to bring labourers and students stuck in Rajasthan as well.
Govt woke up after 40 days: Oppn
Leader of Opposition and AAP leader Harpal Singh Cheema said, “They woke up 40 days after the lockdown to ferry these people…There was no standard operating procedure being followed. No screening was done there. They were all made to sit in buses with no social distancing. Then the government allowed the first lot to go to their homes. Now, all of them are in state quarantine waiting to be tested or waiting for their results. They are sharing bathrooms and even rooms. Nobody knows who will infect whom. There is no planning. All knee-jerk reactions. The onus is on people. Whosoever wants to survive should take care of himself/herself. There is no such thing called a government,” Cheema said.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh in his address to people of the state on Friday said the state was prepared to handle this crisis. “These people have returned from outside the state. We had only seven local infections yesterday and 98 of them were from outside. We will handle them as they would not be allowed to get out of quarantine,” he added.
1,500 more people apply to return to state
With the Centre allowing those stranded due to the lockdown to return to their states, Punjab has received requests from about 1,500 people. The last date of receiving such requests is Sunday and more people are expected to apply. As many as 4,000 migrants from other states have sought government help to return to other states.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has already demanded special trains for these migrants from the Centre as the state would not be able to send buses to other states.
State’s orders lead to a difficult situation on ground
A day after Amarinder directed all deputy commissioners to state quarantine all those returnees and asked them to identify schools and other places in villages, a few DCs are finding it difficult to handle the situation.
The DCs say they are facing their own set of problems. “To put these people in state-run quarantine centres, we need to feed them, somebody will have to do their laundry and another set of staff would be required to take care of them for 21 days. There is already a lot of work of tracing and providing healthcare to those testing positive,” said a DC.
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