Amid an influx of pilgrims, students and labourers returning to Punjab and a sizeable number of them testing positive for novel coronavirus, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh Saturday directed officials to start testing 6000 samples a day by May 15, instead of the targeted 5,800 a day by May end. He also directed the health department to conduct its own tests on all the returnees instead of going by the tests done in other states.
As of Saturday, Punjab had reported 772 positive of which 339, or a whopping 44 per cent are pilgrims who had returned from Gurdwara Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra’s Nanded.
Meanwhile, 20 persons currently residing at Nanded gurdwara tested positive on Saturday. Citing this, Amarinder said with this the claim of the Shiromani Akal Dal, that there were no positive cases in Nanded and the pilgrims had got infected on the way back or on reaching Punjab, has been trashed.
“This is a crucial time in the state’s fight against Covid,” the CM said during a video confrence meeting with the council of ministers.
Amarinder said he has asked the Chief Secretary to coordinate with the central government to scale up the testing capacity to 20,000 a day, to cope with the influx of migrants and others expected to return to the state over the next few weeks in the wake of the new directives of the Government of India. The rapid testing would also need to be scaled exponentially, to at least 2 lakh, once it resumes.
The CM said he has also asked Baba Farid University to explore the feasibility of setting up a testing facility in Jalandhar, for which the government was ready to immediately grant Rs 1 crore.
The directions on ramping up the testing facilities comes two days after Amarinder ordered strict quarantining of those returning to Punjab from other states. In response to a suggestion by some of the ministers, Amarinder agreed to examine the proposal for home quarantine of the returnees in coordination with the village sarpanches and panchayats.
Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu assured that all pending tests would be cleared in the next day or two, to ensure that there is no delay in identifying and addressing positive cases. He said arrangements for increasing testing by roping in a private lab had also been finalized and 2,000 samples from across the state had been sent to them today.
From the initial three testing facilities, the number of such centres in Punjab has now gone up to seven. A proposal has also been sent to Centre to set up four new labs at the district hospitals at Barnala, Roopnagar, Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur. Additionally, a proposal to procure 15 TruNaat machines has been moved. State is also considering to start CBNAAT testing in Patiala and Faridkot.
Cabinet Minister Vijay Inder Singla suggested allowing non-NABL labs to conduct Covid tests, pointing out that the state had 12 such labs, equipped with similar machines as needed for testing, and the ICMR had also allowed these labs to be used after due inspection.
In a significant decision, in view of the unprecedented situation, the Cabinet approved extension of parole period beyond 16 weeks during epidemics and disasters, for those sentenced to 7 years or less. The Cabinet approved suitable amendments to The Punjab Good Conduct Prisoners Act 1962, in accordance with the Supreme Court suggestion on longer paroles in the current extreme circumstances.
To further ramp up the state’s testing facility and medical preparedness, the Cabinet cleared various appointments, on outsourcing basis, for critical posts at the Government Medical Colleges in Patiala, Amritsar and Faridkot. The appointments, already approved by the Finance Department for six months, will enable the medical colleges to appoint vital staff in the viral testing laboratories and isolation wards to enable 24X7 functioning, said an official spokesperson.
The Committee headed by Dr Raj Bahadur will decide and finalize the appointments for the posts of specialist doctors, nurses, ward attendants, technicians, lab attendants, apart from directors and others.
Ex-facto approval for 4300 GoGs
In another decision, the Cabinet accorded ex-post facto approval to the appointment of 4,300
Guardians of Governance (GOGS). The GoGs, part of the CM’s flagship scheme to gainfully employ ex-servicemen, have emerged as a powerful tool for the government in the battle against Covid.
The Cabinet also agreed to amend the transfer policy of the School Education Department to allow teachers seeking transfer after 18 months of posting in the border areas, instead of the earlier three years, once new recruitments are completed. It also gave ex-facto approval to the exclusion of principal and headmasters from the transfer policy.
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