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As COVID-19 cases rise, Punjab orders curbs on indoor, outdoor gatherings


Chandigarh, Feb 23: The Punjab government on Tuesday ordered curbs on indoor and outdoor gatherings from March 1 and authorised Deputy Commissioners (DCs) to impose night-curfew in COVID-19 hotspots in their districts, if needed.

Amarinder Singh

The move comes amid a growing concern over an upswing in the number of coronavirus cases in the state. Chairing a virtual meeting to review the coronavirus situation, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered restrictions on gathering of people from March 1, with 100 people allowed indoors and 200 people allowed to gather outdoors, according to a government statement.

He also directed that wearing of face masks and social distancing norms be strictly enforced, with testing to be ramped to 30,000 a day, it said. Health officials said presently 200 people were allowed to gather indoors and 500 people outdoors, while 20,000 to 22,000 tests are conducted every day.

Chief Secretary Vinni Mahajan ruled out closure of government schools again and said the department is taking all steps to ensure the safety of students.

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Amarinder Singh authorised deputy commissioners to impose night curfew in hotspots in their districts, if needed, with a micro-containment strategy to be adopted. He also directed the police force to ensure strict enforcement of wearing masks. There will be monitoring of adherence to COVID-19 norms at all restaurants and marriage palaces and the Department of Excise and Taxation will be the nodal agency for it. The chief minister said a decision on reducing occupancy in cinema halls will be taken after March 1.

Private offices and restaurants shall be encouraged to display the last tests done for all employees, he added. Punjab is among the five states that have been asked by the Centre to refocus on strict surveillance, containment and RT-PCR testing to check the growing number of cases.

The other four states are Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. While issuing directions for increased testing, Amarinder Singh also ordered mandatory testing of 15 contacts per positive, with monitoring to be done by CPTOs (COVID Patient Tracking Officer) and review to be undertaken by the Health Department.

The chief minister also took stock of the vaccination status, underlining the need to carry out a campaign to promote 100 per cent coverage of healthcare and frontline workers. He directed the Health Department to plan for strategising the rollout of the vaccine for the elderly population and those with comorbidities. Expressing concern over the 3.23 per cent case fatality rate, Amarinder Singh took note of the mortality audit findings that many of the deaths are happening within 2 -14 days of hospitalisation. He underscored the need for continued supervision of protocols for managing patients with comorbidities, especially in private facilities.

Citing cases of some deaths at home, he further directed the Health Department to ensure proper monitoring of home isolation cases, especially those with comorbidities.

The kits comprising self-monitoring instructions should positively reach all persons in home isolation the same day that they are tested positive, he directed.

Earlier, in a brief presentation, Health Secretary Hussan Lal informed the meeting that the districts of Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala, SAS Nagar and SBS Nagar had shown a spike in positivity in recent days, triggering concerns over a possible fresh wave in the state.

On the vaccination front, he said that so far there had been 61 cases of minor adverse events following immunisation, while six severe and 14 serious cases had been reported. All had since recovered, he added.

KK Talwar, who is heading the state government's expert group on COVID, said a detailed analysis was being done on the recent spike in positivity rate which suggested an increase in cases among young people.

At the current rate, the positivity rate could go up to 4 per cent in two weeks, translating into 800 cases per day, he said, stressing the need for urgent preventive steps.

Education Secretary Krishan Kumar said teachers have been designated nodal officers in schools to instruct students on the proper use of masks etc and ensure adherence to COVID appropriate behaviour. These steps have come as a significant number of cases have been reported from the recently reopened schools, especially in Ludhiana, with a positivity rate of 3.1 per cent and Bathinda (2.9 per cent).

So far, no new mutated variant of coronavirus has been detected in Punjab but new samples have been sent for testing and the results are expected next week, said Talwar.

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