In a massive exercise, samples of 21,000 police personnel (26 per cent of the total force) in Punjab have been tested for novel coronavirus of which 0.84 per cent, or 180, were found to have been infected. They include 119 who have been tested positive since June 1 when Punjab Police decided to go in for extensive random sampling of its personnel. In all samples of more than 24,000 personnel, which translate into 30 per cent of the total 80,000-strong force, were taken till Tuesday.
Test results of 3,155 samples are pending, as per the official data compiled by Punjab Police.
Of 119 who tested positive since June 1, only two are symptomatic. Maximum positive cases have been reported from Jalandhar (25) while 59 out of total 180 personnel who tested positive since the outbreak have recovered.
It was to gauge the extent of infection among the force, which had been on frontline duty during curfew and lockdown, that Punjab Police decided to go in for random sampling, said Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta. We have been picking up the surplus capacity of the health department wherever available. To supplement the sampling, we engaged doctors and other paramedical staff attached with police department, including the armed battalions. At some places we also engaged technicians from private sector for sampling.”
Maximum 11,257 personnel were tested from police stations. They make for nearly half the total posting strength of 22509 in police stations across the state. Similarly, 27.6 per cent or 492 drivers out of total 1,780 have been tested. Also, 9,046 (or 24.11 per cent) of the total 37,506 personnel posted at police lines were tested. As per the data, 2,449 (32.2 per cent) of 7,600 Punjab Home Guard jawans, 376 (or 11 per cent) of 3,400 class-IV employees and 687 (10.54 per cent) of 6,515 PSOs have been tested.
Gupta said he had now directed police chiefs in the field to go in for testing of only symptomatic and primary and secondary contacts of positive cases. “We had gone for random testing to gauge the extent of infection. We are now tapering it off,” he said.
The Ludhiana city police was the first to be hit by coronavirus after a theft accused arrested by Focal Point police station officials tested positive on April 9. Subsequently, 16 personnel who came in touch with him, including the SHO (inspector) who got the photos clicked with the accused for a press conference, were quarantined. However, none tested positive.
Since then, Ludhiana police had been facing a peculiar challenge with several accused in different cases testing positive and consequently, personnel coming in their contact being quarantined.
Ludhiana reported the first Covid death of a police official. ACP (north) Anil Kohli (52) died battling coronavirus on April 18. A frontline officer who was posted at the city’s busiest Sabzi Mandi, he developed symptoms after some days and was hospitalized. Among his contacts, his gunman, a sub-inspector (SHO) and an ASI (SHO’s driver) were also infected.
After ACP’s death, at least 115 personnel, including 13 gazetted officers (GOs) were tested. Ludhiana police commissioner Rakesh Agrawal too got himself tested too. All reports returned negative.
In Punjab currently, 374 police personnel are under quarantine, while 803 have completed the quarantine period.
However, several accused persons arrested by Ludhiana police continue to test positive. As per the data compiled by The Indian Express, since April 9, eight accused arrested in different cases, including for theft, ATM fraud, rape, unnatural offences, and abetment to suicide, have tested positive. In case of rape and unnatural offences, victims too had to be quarantined. A 15-year-old boy, who was allegedly murdered, tested positive. Consequently, 12 officers were quarantined. A man who died under mysterious circumstances at his home also tested positive and two police officials who handled the body were quarantined.
After random testing began, nearly 2,000 of the 4,400-strong Ludhiana city police force, have been tested. Additional DCP Dr Sachin Gupta, nodal officer, Covid-19, Ludhiana police, said, “We have adopted stratified random sampling method. Twelve of our personnel have tested positive. Of them, one sub-inspector from Shimlapuri police station had returned from Delhi and then three more from the same police station tested positive. Others tested positive too were in public dealing.”
Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, 16 from the force in Ludhiana have tested positive. They include the deceased ACP, three sub-inspectors (SIs), five Assistant sub-inspectors (ASIs), five constables or head constables and two home guards.
Meanwhile, the Ludhiana police has changed the procedure to handle and arrested accused. Earlier, after the arrest, the police produced the accused in the court and he was either sent to police remand or to jail (judicial remand).
Now, however, police stations have been provided with personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and they have to wear it, whenever they can, while making an arrest. Several SHOs told The Indian Express that it was ‘largely impractical’. “Yes we have got PPE kits but most of the time, arrests aren’t planned. You cannot raid or work in the field wearing PPE kits. After a person is arrested and taken for a medical check-up, we tell accompanying personnel to wear them if possible,” said one of the SHOs.
Now, following the arrest, the accused is produced in the court and then taken for mandatory coronavirus testing. Till the report is not out, he/she is the responsibility of the police and cannot be sent to jail. According to the lower-rank cops working on the ground, here lies the real problem. “Reports come back in 2-3 days and till then we either have to keep the accused in police station or in lock-up. Then there is a fear that they may abscond. So you can’t go near them due to the risk but also have to keep an eye on them 24×7,” said an official.
If the report returns negative, the accused is sent to Borstal Jail (turned into special Covid jail for 11 districts in Punjab) where they are quarantined for 14 days. After 14 days, they are tested again and if negative, they are sent to main (central) jails across Punjab.
In Ludhiana, in some relief to the force, a part of Government Meritorious School (now a quarantine centre) has been turned into a ‘temporary jail’ to keep the accused till report doesn’t come. There too, the personnel deployed have to wear the PPE kits.
Ludhiana police commissioner Rakesh Agrawal said, “Our strategy is to ensure that our force maintains safe distance from the accused, in a way that interrogations and recoveries are not affected. Initially after the arrest, the accused is kept at a police station for these procedures and then taken to court. It is true that the personnel cannot wear PPE kits all the time. After the court, they are taken for testing and then shifted to meritorious school till report isn’t out. Apart from gloves and masks, we are also giving immunity booster diet tips to our force.”
Kulwant Singh, superintendent, Borstal Jail (special COVID jail) said that nearly 400 accused persons, arrested in 11 districts, are quarantined at the jail currently and will be tested again after 14 days.
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