Amid an influx of pilgrims, students and labourers, the Punjab government Saturday decided to test all those returning from outside, saying it can’t rely on the medical examination conducted by other states in the wake of a surge in the infection count. It also decided to ramp up coronavirus testing, with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directing to increase the capacity to 6,000 tests a day by mid-May, instead of the targeted 5,800 a day by May end.
The states’ coronavirus tally has risen substantially in the past a few days due to a large number of Sikh pilgrims evacuated from Maharashtra’s Nanded testing positive for the virus. So far, 292 pilgrims have been found infected with the virus, a government statement said. On Saturday, the state’s coronavirus count soared to 772 with 187 new cases, of which 142 were pilgrims from the state.
The government is also facing a flak from the Opposition for the “mismanagement” of the evacuation process, under which over 3,500 Sikh pilgrims have returned to Punjab.
Referring to the fact that 20 staffers at the Nanded gurdwara have also tested positive for the infection, the CM said with this the Shiromani Akali Dal’s claim that there was no infection case there has been trashed. He once again asked the Opposition not to indulge in “petty politicking” over the issue.
“This is a crucial time in the state’s fight against Covid,” the CM said.
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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