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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A virulent year: Mohali’s roller-coaster ride in 2020

With one of the highest number of Covid-19 patients in Punjab at one point of time, Mohali had quite a roller-coaster ride in 2020.

Written by Jagdeep Singh Deep | Mohali | December 31, 2020 9:30:18 am
Roads in Mohali wear a deserted look in June during the lockdown imposed due to Covid-19. (Express Photo: Jasbir Malhi)

It was a year of turmoil for people from all walks of life in Mohali district. The tough times started with the imposition of curfew in Punjab on March 23. The district, which is a seat of various industries, educational institutes and property-related businesses, saw its fortunes dip as the pandemic progressed.

The first case of coronavirus was reported in the district on March 18 when an NRI woman from Phase 3B-2 tested positive. It didn’t take long before the district became an epicentre of the virus in the state.

As of December 26, the district had recorded 17,910 positive cases and 336 fatalities due to the virus.

Tough times

Many businesses shut shop as the lockdown continued, and many others teetered on the verge of decimation. As president of Mohali Beopar Mandal, Vineet Verma, said, “It was very tough year, many people were forced to shut down their business after losses, while many showrooms failed to attract any renters.”

The secretary of Mohali Property Consultants Association (MPCA), Harpreet Singh Dadwal, said the real estate business, which was already struggling, went into a tailspin due to the pandemic.

H K Chandok, who runs a coaching centre in the city, said the education sector was also hit hard. “The city is an education hub, but the pandemic brought it to a grinding halt.”

The exodus

The fear of the pandemic coupled with the curfew and loss of jobs all culminated in a huge exodus of migrant workers from the district. Thousands of labourers were forced to leave, mostly on foot with their families and kids. According to Nanhe Bhai Pathak, a migrant labour contractor, more than 3000 labourers left for their natives places in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh during this period. “There was uncertainty about the duration of the lockdown and most of the labourers in construction work lost their livelihood. They had no option but to go home, which they also thought was safer than the city,” Pathak added.

Ajay Mishra, another Kharar-based labour contractor from UP, said the number of labourers who left could be more than 5000. Many are yet to return. Sukhwinder Singh, a Kharar-based builder, says post-lockdown the construction cost has gone up. “The labour cost has increased by up to 20 percent, earlier we used to give Rs. 400 per day to a labourer, now it is 450,” he said.

High points

But it was not all gloom and doom in 2020, there were a few bright spots as well. For one, a major portion of the long awaited 10. 4 km-long Kharar flyover was opened to public. Started in 2015, the flyover to decongest traffic was to be completed in 2017, but it kept getting delayed due to the heavy vehicular movement and glitches in the acquisition of land. The lockdown gave it the much needed breather to fast-forward the pace of construction, and the first leg of the project, around 5 km stretch of the flyover, was opened to the public on December 12.

Crime and clubs

The year saw a number of late night crackdowns on night clubs that flouted rules with impunity and attracted party-goers from across the tricity. While initially lax, the police swung into action when a Punjab police commando Sukhwinder Singh was shot dead outside the Walking Street Night club in Phase XI in August.

The district also saw a change of guard with Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Singh Chahal moving to the neighbouring Chandigarh, paving the way for the installation of new SSP Satinder Singh in October.

Matters of health

Although the new medical college and hospital could not take off due to pandemic this year, the district saw a fair amount of action on the Covid front. Civil Surgeon Dr. Manjeet Singh and the administration did their best to contain the spread of the pandemic but it continued spreading in various hotspots.

Jawaharpur, a small village near Derabassi, kept the administration and Punjab government on its toes when it became an epicentre of COVID-19 cases. More than 50 cases were reported from the village till May making it a village with maximum cases not only in the district but in the entire state.

The first case was reported in the village in April after a farmer who had gone to drop some labourers to Delhi got infected with the virus. Soon, the virus spread like wild fire, and almost every household was infected.

Acting swiftly, the administration isolated the village and made arrangements for harvesting of wheat. Gurwinder Singh, a resident of the village, recounts how they became untouchables even for close relatives. “Relatives refused to step into our village even after curfew was lifted,” he says.

“It was a very strange situation for the entire village, we were facing such an isolation for the first time. The entry of outsiders was banned, there was a lot of anxiety among the residents,” he recalled.

Despite the wide sweep of the infection, the village recorded just one death, one that they continue to mourn even today.

Looking back, virologists are all praise for the district Health Department that carried out intensive testing in the village and collected the samples of all the residents. The village remained a containment zone for a long time but its people came out stronger and wiser.


At the helm

Mohali Deputy Commissioner (DC) Girish Dayalan led from the front when the lockdown was imposed in the district. During the first week of the lockdown, he had to face the wrath of the locals who did not like the curfew and found the supply of essentials a trifle sluggish. But Dayalan was quick to do A course correction and the very same locals heaped him with praises. The DC, who was among the first few officers to quarantine, when he returned from a vacation in Europe at the onset of this pandemic, ended up contracting the virus earlier this month. Looking back at the year of the pandemic, he says, “It was an altogether different experience for us, but the tremendous team work helped. I appreciate the efforts put in by all the officials and health workers who worked hard during these tough times,” he says.

Dr Do-Good

Former Civil Surgeon Dr. Manjeet Singh played a very vital role in educating Mohali about the pandemic while containing it with regular testing and contact tracing. Leading from the front, Dr. Manjeet Singh made it a point to visit the various containment zones with his teams to ensure a first-hand feedback from patients while also raising the morale of health workers toiling under tough conditions. The doctor himself is very dismissive about his role. “There were reports from other states that health workers were being attacked, that is why I made it a point to be at the forefront. After all, the safety of my staff was my priority. Everything went well,” he says.

The caring cop

DySP Amroz Singh, who was appointed the nodal officer for overseeing the police’s working during the lockdown, found himself in a piquant situation. On the one hand, he was responsible for issuing travel passes to people stranded in the city, on the other he had to shoulder the heavy responsibility of dealing with the last rites of people who succumbed to this virus. “Handling such deaths was a logistical challenge as many a time families would refuse to come to conduct the last rites.” Recollecting the challenges the pandemic posed, he says, “Enforcement of lockdown while empathising with genuine cases, saving our own force from coronavirus while implementing the Covid protocol was a herculean task, for our policemen and women were continuously exposed to the virus”. But with the vaccine around the corner, he says all is well that ends well.

Good Samaritans

When most of Mohali was at home due to the lockdown, two Asha workers posted at primary health centre in Kumbra village were out and about, doing something that even blood relatives were loath to do. The two took the onus of cremating a man whose family did not have the money to perform the last rites. A migrant labourer Rajpal (35) died on April 23. Later, he tested Covid positive. Jasvir Kaur, who arranged for the cremation with her colleague Gurpreet Kaur, said Rajpal’s relatives were too scared of the virus to come forward following which they arranged for his last rites.

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