Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Saturday asked his ministers and party MLAs to visit hospitals in districts represented by them and liaise with villages to combat the negative campaign against testing for coronavirus infection.
Amarinder, who was presiding over a virtual meeting attended by several ministers and MLAs representing some of the constituencies where village panchayats had purportedly passed resolutions against the state government’s Covid management programme, said he would visit one of the hospitals in coming days as a confidence building measure.
The move to make ministers and MLAs seen in the hospitals is aimed at countering the opposition criticism that they were not seen on the ground.
Several rumours, including those of alleged organ harvesting of Covid-19 patients, have been floating around posing a new challenge to the Health department as people in some villages are preventing medical teams from collecting samples.
The CM who tested negative for the coronavirus infection Saturday and ended his week-long self-isolation, accused the Aam Aadmi Party of spreading the “senseless fear” among villagers, making them wary of getting themselves tested for coronavirus and endangering their lives.
An AAP activist was arrested for allegedly circulating a post of a dead body to “mislead” people into believing that organs of deceased corona-positive patients were being removed by the Health Department, officials had said on Thursday.
The CM said his government would seek advice from the government of India about the web channels that had mushroomed recently and were actively involved in spreading misinformation about the pandemic.
Amarinder alleged that the AAP had been promoting “no testing” and an activist of their party had also been arrested for spreading false information on Covid testing. Lok Insaaf Party leader Simrajit Singh Bains had also joined in “creating an atmosphere of fear” among the people by himself refusing to be tested and calling for no testing and no masks, he said.
Terming AAP’s announcement of distributing oximeters a “political stunt”, Singh said the device had no connection with testing, and delay in the latter was the main reason for the state’s growing fatality rate.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on September 2 had said that AAP workers would check the oxygen level of people with oximeters in Punjab’s villages.
Stressing that the oximeters were no substitute for testing, the CM said blood Oxygen levels can fall very fast, so the only key to saving lives is early testing and diagnosis. He pointed out that 85 per cent of all the infected patients recover, as long as they get themselves tested in time. Of the remaining 15 per cent who have complications, only five per cent need ICU or oxygen support, he said, adding that the oximeters were being unnecessarily and wrongly hyped by AAP, in a bid to “mislead” people.
The CM urged the elected representatives to mobilise and liaison with panchayats to counter the “false and mischievous propaganda”. Sarpanches, panches and local opinion makers should be asked to take the lead in getting themselves tested, he said.
Rural Development Minister Tript Singh Bajwa told the meeting that there were, in fact, no formal resolutions passed by panchayats and there was nothing on record. Some miscreants had gathered and issued statements on behalf of the panchayats in 42 villages, of which 22 were later withdrawn.
Health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the miscreants got signatures from unsuspecting villagers and termed the statements as resolutions as part of a concerted campaign by some vested interests to spread misinformation. He said CCTV cameras were being put at various places, including outside toilets and in hospitals, to check for cleanliness as well as attendance of doctors and nurses in charge of patient care.
School Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla said web channels had been formed in various districts in support of the AAP propaganda and the Cyber Crime Cell needs to rein these in.
Vidhan Sabha Speaker Rana KP Singh said the vicious campaign orchestrated by anti-social elements was misleading the people, with AAP leading the misinformation campaign.
Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Tript Bajwa underlined the need for educating people and ensuring the best of care at hospitals to encourage them to come forward for testing and treatment.
Party MLA Rana Gurjit suggested increased connect of ministers and senior officials with the frontline workers and others on the ground to counter the AAP and SAD propaganda machinery. Fateh Bajwa called for political leaders to step in to connect the government with the people more effectively. Medical Education Minister OP Soni said party workers had to be encouraged to combat the opposition disinformation campaign.
Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan too felt that with the political leadership coming out in support of the administration, the state government’s efforts to battle the pandemic would get a boost and it would also help dispel rumours. She apprised the meeting that both Rapid Antigen Tests and RT-PCR testing had been boosted and home isolation was being encouraged. Citing data, she said a total of 948 healthcare workers in the state had tested positive so far, with two deaths and one seriously ill. Around 700 had recovered while 245 were still in isolation, she said, adding that these healthcare workers needed to be encouraged through public appreciation of their good work.
State Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said whether or not a formal resolution had been passed by villages, the role of miscreants was definitely evident and a close watch should be kept on such elements.
In a brief presentation, Health Secretary Hussan Lal said the campaign to discredit the government’s efforts had impacted testing, which had gone down. With patients reporting late in tertiary care institutions, the number of deaths there had gone up, he said.
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