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फतेहाबाद: हरियाणा रोडवेज का बड़ा फैसला, पंजाब,उत्तराखंड और जम्मू की बस सेवा पर लगाई रोकप्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी आज ऑस्ट्रेलियाई पीएम के साथ करेंगे वर्चुअल मीटिंगचीन ने अमेरिका की सीमित पैसेंजर फ्लाइट को दी इजाजतहरियाणा के परिवहन मंत्री मूलचंद शर्मा की अध्यक्षता में रोडवेज यूनियन के साथ चंडीगढ़ हरियाणा निवास में बैठक 12 बजे शुरू होगीलद्दाख: LAC पर भारत ने बोफोर्स तोपों की तैनाती शुरू की दिल्ली हिंसा: दाखिल होगी दूसरी चार्जशीट, गोकुलपुरी में मुस्लिम समुदाय के लोगों की मिली थी लाश लॉकडाउन ने गैर-घातक कोविड-19 को जानलेवा बना दिया: राहुल गांधीतूफान निसर्ग का प्रभाव, मध्य प्रदेश के कई जिलों में मध्यम से भारी बारिश दर्ज

Threat real, but we Punjabis are resilient and will overcome it’

April 01, 2020 05:43 AM

COURTESY HT APRIL 1 Threat real, but we Punjabis are resilient and will overcome it’

Navneet Sharma

After the coronavirus outbreak, Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh was quick to pad up to deal with the looming public health emergency. He was the first head of the state to clamp curfew on March 23 – a day before the Centre declared a nationwide lockdown – to slow down the virus spread. In a crisis management mode, his government is focusing on tracing 1,300-odd missing NRIs, preparing contingency plans for harvesting and procurement of a whopping 135 lakh tonnes of wheat crop and finding ways to endure the pandemic’s debilitating effect on the state economy. In an e-mail interview with HT on Tuesday, the chief minister dwelt on the challenges ahead and his action plan. Excerpts:

What impact the coronavirus outbreak would have on the state?

It is too early to give an assessment. Our efforts currently are focused on preventing the spread of the disease and ramping up the health infrastructure to meet any eventuality. I am personally monitoring the situation and we are prepared to handle any eventuality. The government machinery is fully engaged so that people are not inconvenienced. The impact of the outbreak is likely to be an extended one, though it is not possible to put any timeline. Also, I do not think any section of the society will remain untouched by the crisis. But we, Punjabis, are resilient, and will undoubtedly come through this crisis eventually.

Has the state government been able to figure out the broader spread? If yes, how do you plan to deal with it?

The situation is a very dynamic one and changing every day. As of now, there is no apparent community transmission in Punjab. However, as the danger still looms, and we cannot rule out escalation in the coming days, we have geared ourselves fully. We have planned three levels of care centres: i) critical care where all Covid-19 patients with HDU (High Dependence Units) and ICU (Intensive Care Units) requirement would go to Government Medical Colleges (GMCs); ii) Patients with mild symptoms would be admitted to isolation facilities created in government hospitals with total bed capacity of 5,000 at present; and iii) In case of broad spread of Covid-19, hostel buildings of colleges would be converted into care centres. This plan would enable us to take care of more than 25,000 positive patients at any given point of time.

As India, according to several experts, is entering into a critical phase where we can either flatten the curve or see a sharp spike. What is your main worry on the health front?

Fortunately, we have not entered the Stage-3 of community transmission and hope we do not have to face such an eventuality. However, if a broader spread does occur, then the focus will have to be on flattening the curve so that there is no rush of positive patients to the hospitals and each patient is properly taken care of. The very low number of positive cases in the last few days give us cause for optimism on this count. More aggressive testing and more contact tracing so as to put Covid-19 positive cases in isolation for treatment is the strategy we have adopted. We hope it will help prevent the situation from escalating.

What about NRIs and other persons with history of foreign travel who are still to be traced? How serious a danger do they pose?

When reports of the outbreak started coming in, we screened more than 95,000 passengers who had arrived at the two international airports at SAS Nagar and Amritsar, and two land ports at Wagah and Kartarpur Sahib. Subsequently, we received a list of 55,000 international passengers from government of India. We have put these passengers under home quarantine of 14 days and are keeping a strong vigil. It is true all Covid-19 positive cases in Punjab have been traced back to persons with history of foreign travel, but it would be unfair to say that NRIs pose a special danger of Covid-19 because if we consider the total percentage of persons who came from abroad and showed symptoms of the virus, then we’ll see that it is a very small percentage.

What is your sense on the impact of national lockdown on Punjab’s economy?

It is too early to predict anything, especially considering that we are still in the midst of the crisis. Right now, we are diverting all resources to coping with the problem and providing all possible support to our people. I have already asked finance minister Manpreet Badal to draw up a detailed financial contingency plan to deal with the situation. But given the extent of the problem, the economic fallout is going to be extremely serious, and may take a long time to recover, not just in Punjab but the entire nation, and in fact the whole world.

As Punjab is heavily dependent on migrant workers for harvesting and they are returning to their homes in droves, what challenges do you see?

My instructions to all the departments that not a single migrant labourer should be out on the streets. Industry and brick-kiln owners have been asked to shelter the migrants. Also, we are in talks with the Radha Soami Satsang sect to help accommodate the migrant labourers in their Satsang Bhawans so that they can help out with the wheat harvesting that is due to begin in two weeks. The government has also made elaborate arrangements to provide food and shelter to those left in the lurch because of the sudden lockdown.

How do you look at India’s response to the coronavirus challenge?

The nation has, by and large, responded very well to the situation. The challenge of locking down 1.3 billion people overnight was an extremely tough one, and naturally it was not possible to put in place foolproof systems. Yet, given the scale and enormity of the challenge, things have been largely smooth, barring the exodus of labour from some states, which is also now being managed. In retrospect, one can of course think of many things that could and should have been done differently. But things are getting normalised and I am sure every state is doing everything in its power to manage its people while extending full support to the Centre.

What steps should the Centre take to help the states?

We have already shared a detailed list of steps needed urgently to be taken by the Centre to help us get out of this crisis. These include immediate release of our GST compensation, payment of dues under MGNREGA, deferment of industrial and agriculture/crop loan instalments by commercial banks, special insurance for police and sanitary workers in line with the one announced by the Centre for health workers and incentives for farmers to ensure staggered transport of wheat grain into mandis.

Medical experts have been pressing for more testing. What is your take on this and whether we have the facilities in Punjab for testing on a large scale?

When this problem started, we had testing facilities at PGIMER with a capacity of 40 cases per day and then we got approval for testing facilities at GMCs at Patiala and Amritsar. GMC, Faridkot, will also get approval soon. In the next 3-4 days, we will increase the testing capacity in Punjab to 850 cases per day. Regarding testing protocol, we have been broadly following the ICMR guidelines which allow very limited testing

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