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Thursday, June 24, 2021

16 deaths in 4 weeks, panic in Punjab village

Though the village has a Primary Health Centre (PHC), it was this ex-soldier, fauji as they call him in the village, who first noticed the unusually high number of deaths in the village last month, and brought it to the notice of the district administration.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: May 10, 2021 2:52:17 am
A medic takes swab sample of a woman for COVID-19 test, from a mobile van, in Amritsar, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (PTI Photo)

It’s a village in mourning. Mari Mega village in Tarn Taran district has cremated 16 people in the past four weeks. There is hardly any family which hasn’t lost a friend or relative. Four deaths took place in the last four days alone.

‘‘After almost a year of negating the existence of Covid and calling it a city slicker’s disease, there is utter panic in the village now. Earlier people wouldn’t bother about Covid-19 protocols. Now people have started wearing masks,” says Subedar Kulwant Singh, an ex-serviceman, who was appointed the guardian of governance by the Capt Amarinder Government in 2017.

Though the village has a Primary Health Centre (PHC), it was this ex-soldier, fauji as they call him in the village, who first noticed the unusually high number of deaths in the village last month, and brought it to the notice of the district administration.

Deputy Commissioner Kulwant Singh marked a probe into findings of the GoG after which SDM Patti Rajesh Sharma investigated the deaths. “We found that 11 out of 16 deaths were due to Covid-19,” said SDM Rajesh Sharma. It could be more, say sources.
Most of these deaths happened without much warning. Amarjit Kaur (60) died on April 29 after two days of illness. Her relative, Puran Singh, a retired government official, said, “She had temperature and then breathing problems. We took her to hospital where she died soon after her oxygen levels dropped. We didn’t know she had Covid-19. Later, doctors asked us to get sampled after which two of our family members tested positive. Both are quarantined now.”

Amarjit Kaur was one of the Covid-19 victims, who was not part of the government’s record of Covid deaths before the SDM-level probe.

Kirpal Singh (75) died at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital Amritsar, on May 4, three days after getting fever. “He had no co-morbidities. Suddenly he started feeling breathless, and we rushed him to the hospital where he tested positive,’’ says his nephew.

Sarpanch Jagjeet Singh rues that people are dismissive of their symptoms and refuse to correlate these with Covid. ‘‘But the recent deaths have made the villagers fearful. They have started following Covid protocol.”

The Senior Medical Officer (SMO), Sur Singh block, Satnam Singh admitted that health department had information about only five Covid-19 deaths in the village as no one was tested.

Amardeep Singh Cheema, chairman of Punjab Health Systems Corporation (PHSC), says, “Rural areas of Punjab are registering 55% of the total deaths as compared to 45% in urban areas. It is in sharp contrast to positive cases in villages, which are just 23% as compared to 77% in urban areas.”

The deaths in Mari Mega village in Sur Singh block of Tarn Taran district, suggest that the Covid Fatality Rate (CFR) in villages could be much higher than that calculated by the health department.

SDM Rajesh Sharma points to the vaccine hesitancy among the rural population. “I am not aware if anyone is vaccinated in the village so far. But now we are going to organise special vaccination camps. We will also boost testing by collecting samples,” he said.

The SMO said other villages are also registering deaths at the same rate.

Senior Congress leader Kiranjeet Singh Mitha, who hails from Mari Mega village, blames the deaths on lack of Covid appropriate behaviour in villages.

“People feel offended if you don’t shake hand with them or ask them to wear the mask. Now after these unusually high number of deaths, the health department is asking people to get vaccinated but few people are responding. I know many who were sick but recovered on their own. But four deaths in four days have injected some fear in people,” said Kiranjeet Singh.

Cheema claims the PHSC is doing its bit to spread awareness about sampling and vaccinating. ‘‘I have approached more than 2000 village sarpanches and 200 Block Samiti members and written to over 200 Municipal Councillors and sarpanches to encourage testing in Gurdaspur.”

Cheema says after the initial reluctance and carelessness, people in villages have begun to realise the gravity of the situation. ‘‘The efforts of frontline health workers and various departments of Punjab government have finally begun to bear fruit, and we are hoping for a successful vaccination drive,’’ he said.

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