The year 2020 will be most remembered for Covid-19 — the kind of scare it created and the kind of impact it would have on the years to come. Panchkula, too, was untouched by its fury but it marched ahead navigating between lockdown and unlock.
The first case was reported on March 21. A contact of the first positive case of Chandigarh, a 40-year-old resident of one of the biggest slums of Panchkula, Kharak Mangoli, became the first positive case of Panchkula. She was a masseuse at a beauty parlour in Chandigarh.
Hours after she tested positive, the administration had cordoned off the slum with a population of more than 9,000. While the woman had to be taken to hospital against her will, her son had tested negative. Kept in isolation, he had tried to flee the premises. The identification of the people she had been in touch for contact tracing became difficult as the woman could not remember much.
At least four teams of healthcare officials, with three nurses and a senior doctor in each team, a nodal officer and 50 police personnel, had been deployed in the area.
The residents of the slum — who work as Class 4 employees in government offices, drive autorickshaws or work as help in city homes — were barred from moving out of the quarantined region. Movement inside too was restricted.
Police manned the four main access points, and eight check posts around, with no one allowed in or out.
Extensive surveillance throughout the day, timely sanitisation of the area, constant checks on gathering and door-to-door IEC (information, education and communication) programmes were undertaken in the area.
Five days into the quarantine, the Panchkula administration promptly provided rations — 2-kg packets of rice, wheat and pulses — at subsidised rates to all daily-wage labourers. Pre-cooked food packets, meant to be sufficient for one, were given out at Rs 5 each.
The quarantine for the slum ended 28 days later, with no new positive cases reported in the area.
Pioneer in roping in private hospitals
Acting swiftly after the first case of Covid was reported in the Tricity, the Panchkula health department converted a whole block — block C of Civil Hospital, Sector 6 — into an isolation ward of 53 beds.
The block was readied within a day after the first case tested positive in Chandigarh. All staff and offices from the block were shifted and beds were added and increased as per the need throughout the pandemic.
The administration also roped in private hospitals even before the first case was reported in the city itself. Hospitals, including Paras, Ojas and Alchemist, were roped in which 45 intensive care isolation chambers were prepared. Panchkula had more than 100 beds within the first week of outbreak in the city. Flu corner where people were being screened and sampled for Covid was also made operational from 9 am to 8 pm each day, including Sundays and gazetted holidays.
The flu corner now remains functional 24×7.
Women doctors at the forefront
The heath department of Panchkula rose to the occasion as and when caseload grew and situations presented new challenges. In fact, the fight against corona was led by a team of women doctors. The Chief Medical Officer of Panchkula (CMO), Dr Jasjeet Kaur, headed a team of more than 80 per cent women.
As working hours increased three-fold — what was once an eight-hour shift became a 24-hour schedule — doctors scrambled to plan in advance for what might come.
At the very beginning, lists of doctors to be put in reserve, doctors to be handed over crucial departments and doctors to be brought in were prepared. Doctors and nurses were sent training modules online to study and become ready for any emergency.
People who attended Tablighi Jamaat were traced, sampled
In the wake of Tablighi incident in New Delhi and after instructions from the state, the district traced as many as 124 people who had attended Tablighi Jamaat in various states, including Maharashtra and Rajasthan. All were traced and put in quarantine at the Nada Sahib facility.
Six among the 124 had later tested positive.
As many as 16 villages of Panchkula had also been sealed on orders by the District Magistrate as per protocol.
Sampling highest number of cases across Tricity
While Panchkula sent its Covid samples to Chandigarh’s PGIMER and the Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College in Karnal till May, it was quick to set up a sampling lab.
The lab, which became functional in early May, helped streamline the process of collecting samples and cut down the waiting period of reports as Panchkula became self-sufficient.
The lab which began to do 80 samples a day, now conducts more than 1,000 tests on average each day.
Walk-in Covid tests permitted
In August, Panchkula became the only one amid the Tricity to permit walk-in sampling, encouraging people to get themselves tested.
The district also launched 19 government facilities while inviting private labs to set up base in the city at community centres.
At least 23 such sampling centres still remain functional in the district.
Drastic increase in sampling
Processing an average of 1,000 samples each day right now, despite the low number of cases, Panchkula has remained far ahead of Chandigarh and Mohali in sampling total number of cases per million.
Before the start of its own lab, Panchkula was sending samples to PGIMER, Chandigarh. In the first week of May, the lab became functional and tested 80 people on the first day.
The district gradually acquired technicians and equipment and grew from processing 80 to 200 samples a day. It further increased its capacity to 400 in July, 600 in August and crossed 1,000 samples a day in September-October when the region witnessed its Covid peak.
Strategic testing remained the mainstay of the district’s policy for fighting Covid. Aggressive testing in contacts and containment areas helped in early detection and management of cases.
Panchkula conducted mass tests in its containment zones and random sampling throughout the city in market areas, factories and government offices as cases grew in the city. The attempts bore fruit when several cases were identified in the initial stage.
The district tested an average of 1,800 people per day in September using both RT-PCR and RAT testing methods to maximise reach and make judicious use of time and resources.
Despite its weakest days in September when Covid deaths grew manifold with a severe surge in cases, Panchkula managed to handle its caseload despite the absence of any medical college in the district.