The state should be ready with 5,000 isolation beds by mid-April, the Chief Minister said in an interview

Occupied with updating Netizens on the current status and briefing them on measures being taken by his government to battle the deadly virus, Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh, in an email interview with The Tribune reporters Sanjeev Singh Bariana and Rajmeet Singh, spoke on government preparedness to tackle Covid-19 and the challenges ahead.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is your real-time assessment of the spread of Covid-19 in the state?

The situation is continuously evolving. At present, there seems to be no community transmission in Punjab. But given the fact that there are variable factors beyond control (as evident from the migrant exodus in Delhi and the Nizamuddin incident), it is difficult to predict anything. The large NRI population that arrived in Punjab over the past one month or so adds to the problem. By mid-April, we should be ready with 5,000 isolation beds along with the necessary manpower, and we plan to scale it further over the next month or so, may be to even 20,000 isolation beds.

Does the government plan to go for rapid testing?

There has been a more than 220 per cent increase in testing since March 24 but it is still only 0.004 per cent of Punjab’s population (2011 census). Shortage of kits and equipment is a major obstacle but we are now aggressively focusing on augmenting capacities by procuring kits externally and internally.

Many local organisations have come out with indigenous kits which will be tested and approved on priority.

What’s the state’s strategy if the spread reaches the third stage?

We have planned three levels of care centres. Level 1 is critical care under which all Covid patients would be sent to HDU (High Dependence Units) and ICU at government medical colleges. Level 2 will cater to patients with mild symptoms admitted in isolation facilities with a bed capacity of around 5,000. Level 3 will cover patients with very mild symptoms. We plan to convert college hostel buildings into Covid care centres, if need be. At any given time, we have plans to take care of more than 25,000 infected persons.

How effective have measures been to prevent the exodus of migrant labour?

Migrant labourers are mainly concentrated in Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Sangrur and Fatehgarh Sahib, with Ludhiana alone accounting for more than 50 per cent (12 lakh). Apart from sealing the state borders, we are engaging with the labourers to persuade them to stay back. Senior officials across districts are working in close coordination to ensure they are provided shelter and food. Shelter homes have been built and rations are being supplied. Religious organisations, NGOs and industry owners are pitching in. Radha Saomi centres have been identified for housing the labourers.

We have asked the industry and brickkiln owners to shelter the migrants on their premises without compromising on the safety protocol. They have been allowed to run their units with the help of these labourers.

How do you plan to revive the state economy?

Our immediate focus is utilising all possible resources to provide medical care. I have asked the Finance Minister to come up with a contingency plan. We have approached the Centre regarding the release of pending GST arrears, CCL etc in addition to a financial package to fight the pandemic.

As far as industry is concerned, the state has deferred payment of electricity and water bills and property tax. The government has already notified Industrial and Business Development Policy, 2017, which provides attractive incentives. State GST refunds will be cleared on time so that the industry has the necessary finances for revival.

With harvesting season round the corner and shortage of labour in mandis, how will you come to farmers’ rescue?

We have decided to delay harvesting and extend the purchase season by two months. Procurement will begin on April 15 and continue till June 15. My instructions to the DCs and police are clear – Covid-19 protocol is to be strictly adhered to. They are working with the farmers to create awareness and secure their support.

All efforts will be made to ensure social distancing during procurement. Farmers will be issued tokens so that they arrive in mandis on the dates specified. I have advised the State Mandi Board to work out a system for mandi-wise procurement to avoid crowding. Biometric authentication and swipe cards have been done away with to prevent infection.

What about Covid positive cases with no travel history or contact with any NRI?

We have a strategy to identify, test and isolate the 95,000-odd NRIs and foreign returnees who landed in Punjab in the past few weeks, apart from the 55,000-odd travellers whose names have been shared with us by the Centre. We are working round the clock to trace the contacts of NRIs who arrived in the past 4-6 weeks. The contacts too will be tested and quarantined/isolated.

Courtesy: The Tribune

The Tribune