Amritsar: As Covid-19 cases continue to rise rapidly in Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday ordered stricter restrictions beginning on Tuesday, including extension of night curfew timings from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., closure of all bars, cinema halls, gyms, spas, coaching centres with restaurants and hotels to be open only for takeaway and home delivery.
Rates for RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing (RAT) by private labs have been reduced to Rs 450 and Rs 300, respectively, with additional charges for home collection of the samples, in a bid to promote increased testing.
Gatherings of more than 20 persons, including for weddings and cremations, have also been banned across the state, with approval of the district administration needed for all gatherings of more than 10 persons, except for cremations.
The new restrictions, which also include closure of all malls, shops and markets on Sunday, coupled with the ones imposed earlier, will remain in effect till April 30, announced the Chief Minister, directing the Police Department to strictly enforce the restrictions, taking support of civil society organisations where needed.
All weekly markets have also ordered to be shut down.
Chairing a high-level virtual meeting to review the Covid situation in the state, the Chief Minister also ordered that all people flying into Punjab should have a negative RT-PCR report not more than 72 hours old, else they would have to undergo RAT testing at the airport.
He also ordered that people who have attended large gatherings anywhere -- religious, political and social -- to be mandatorily home quarantined for five days and tested as per protocol.
The Chief Minister directed the Transport Department that number of people in buses and taxis and autos be restricted to 50 per cent of the capacity.
In a bid to check inbound travellers, the Chief Minister also directed that rapid antigen testing booths should be set up at bus stands and railway stations and all passengers checked. All eligible persons should be also vaccinated.
The Chief Minister also ordered postponement of the recruitment exams for patwaris and directed the Medical Education Department to hold online examination for the first, second and third year MBBS, BDS, BAMS and 1st year nursing students.
He also reiterated his appeal to all religious, social and political leaders to desist from organising large gatherings, encourage vaccination and motivate people for Covid appropriate behaviour, especially wearing of masks and avoiding gatherings.
Guardians of governance and all ex-servicemen have been urged to take the lead in ensuring adherence to protocols.
He further said that military hospitals in the cantonments in Punjab had assured the state government of all possible help to tackle the surge, while private hospitals had already been directed to reserve 75 per cent beds for Covid patients.
While reviewing the situation in private and government hospitals, the Chief Minister directed 75 per cent reservation of L-3 facilities for Covid in all private hospitals providing critical Covid care.
He said no elective surgeries should be conducted in any government or private hospitals till May 15 and all OPD patients must be tested, besides encouraging them to get vaccinated.
The containment and micro-containment strategy was left to the Deputy Commissioners to decide, depending on the situation in their respective zones or areas.
Health Secretary Hussan Lal, in a presentation, said the state's positivity rate had stayed stable at around 7.8 per cent but had shown a quantum jump thereafter, going up to 12.6 per cent as of April 15, with Mohali being the worst hit at 36.53 per cent.
The spike, he said, could be attributed to the new variant, along with people coming back from large gatherings from outside Punjab.
The figure was expected to go up further with more testing, he said, adding that by May 5, the state was projected to report 6,000 cases a day of urgent measures were not implemented in districts of Ludhiana, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Jalandhar , Amritsar and Patiala, which would be the drivers of the spike.