Wheat procurement postponed; pvt, govt hospitals told to vaccinate 7 days a week; Punjab Congress puts all rallies on hold

Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 19
Clamping down heavily on the fresh Covid surge, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday ordered massive state-wide restrictions beginning Saturday, with closure of educational institutes till March 31 and restrictions on cinema/mall capacities.
All educational institutes, other than medical and nursing colleges, will remain closed till March 31, with restriction of 50 per cent capacity in cinema halls and not more than 100 people in a mall at any time.
The CM appealed to people to keep social activity in their houses to the bare minimum for the next two weeks to break the transmission chain. Not more than 10 visitors should be entertained in homes, he urged.
In the 11 worst-hit districts, a complete ban has been ordered on all social gatherings and related functions, except for funerals/cremations/weddings, which will be allowed with only 20 people in attendance. This will be enforced from Sunday.
In these districts, which will remain under night curfew from 9 pm to 5 am, the Chief Minister has ordered cinemas, multiplexes, restaurants and malls to remain closed on Sundays, though home deliveries will be allowed subject to night curfew. Industries and essential services will be allowed to function, but barring these, all restrictions will be strictly enforced, the Chief Minister directed the top civic and police officials in these districts.
Also, starting next week, one hour of silence will be observed across the state every Saturday, from 11 am to noon, in memory of those who lost their lives to Covid, with no vehicle to ply at this time. The Chief Minister asked the district administration to involve the general public, along with market committees and sarpanches, in this initiative, which will, however, remain voluntary for them.
In the 11 worst-affected districts of Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, SBS Nagar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Ropar and Moga, the Chief Minister ordered restrictions on in-person public dealings in government offices, with citizens to be encouraged to visit offices only for essential services.
Amarinder directed officials to encourage online and virtual modes for grievance redressal, and asked departments concerned to issue necessary instructions for limiting appointments per day for registries, etc.
Though other districts will not be placed under such stringent restrictions for now, the Chief Minister ordered immediate reinforcement and strict monitoring of the strategy of micro-containment and containment zones where there are evident clusters. He made it clear that if necessary, strict curbs would also be imposed in other districts if the situation worsens and Covid protocols and norms are not adhered to.
The situation would be reviewed after two weeks, said the Chief Minister, chairing a meeting of the Covid Task Force with top officials.
Directing health officials to ramp up testing per day to 35,000, the Chief Minister said special focus should be on super spreaders, and government employees, teachers in educational institutions, etc must be tested routinely. RAT testing should be stepped up along with RTPCR testing, he ordered, while directing contact tracing and contact testing to be taken up to 30 per positive person. The CPTOs must personally monitor this task, he said.
The Chief Minister also directed the Department of Medical Education and Research to immediately complete recruitment of specialists/super-specialists.
Amarinder said well-functioning hospitals, where serious cases are best handled, had been advised to restore the Covid beds and postpone elective surgeries.
The names of the COVID monitors, who are appointed at every establishment and office – the names, should be available with the district administration, along with their numbers, said the Chief Minister. They would be responsible for ensuring following of COVID-appropriate behaviour at their organisations, he said, adding that the Departments of Labour; Excise and Taxation, among others, must assist the Deputy Commissioners in enforcing these instructions.
Dr KK Talwar, who heads the state government’s expert team on Covid, said the surge in cases appeared to be the result of opening of schools and colleges, with young asymptomatic people appearing to be spreading the virus. There was no evidence as of now to show that the spike was due to the mutants, as only two cases of new strains had been found in Punjab so far. The state currently has almost 40 per cent cases from under-30 population, he added.
Procurement put off to April 10 
In view of the Covid spike in the state, the Punjab government will kick-start the procurement operations from April 10 this year.
The decision to delay the procurement was taken at a Covid review meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu told the meeting that the department needed more time to make arrangements to ensure safe procurement amid the surge in Covid cases.
Pvt, govt hospitals told to vaccinate 7 days a week
Taking note of the low vaccination numbers in the state, Amarinder asked all private and government hospitals and health facilities to offer hassle-free vaccination services for at least eight hours daily, seven days a week, till March 31. There should be no requirement of a separate certificate if an eligible 45-plus person brings the medical record regarding co-morbidities, he said.
The CM pointed out with concern that of the 1,291 registered private facilities, 891 had reportedly not administered a single dose. He asked the district administration to come down strictly on such hospitals, stressing that private hospitals needed to join the government battle against Covid for the survival of the state and its people. Rates to take the vaccine in private health-care institutions must be publicised and overcharging should not be permitted, he directed the Health Department.
State Congress puts all rallies on hold 
Punjab Congress will not hold any political gatherings for the next two weeks in view of the spike in Covid cases in the state. This was announced by Amarinder Singh at the review meeting on the Covid situation.
Amarinder also appealed to other political parties and their leaders to keep their gatherings within the prescribed numbers, that is 50 per cent of capacity, subject to maximum of 100 in closed and 200 in open spaces. No political gatherings should take place in the most affected districts, he said.
Underlining the need for strict enforcement, the Chief Minister ordered compulsory enforcement of wearing of face masks in the state. He directed the police and health authorities to take all those moving around and loitering in public areas, and on the roads and streets, without face masks, to the nearest RT-PCR Testing Facility for taking nasopharyngeal swabs to ensure that they are not asymptomatic Covid cases.
He asked the Amritsar DC to talk to the SGPC and management of Durgiana temple to encourage devotees to wear masks inside the shrines.