CHANDIGARH: Amid the COVID-19 crisis in the state, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Saturday warned of strict action, including impounding of passports, of those who fail to declare their travel history. The state government also announced special health insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh each for the police personnel and sanitation workers in the frontline of the battle against this virus on the lines of that announced for health workers by the Centre.
At the first cabinet meeting to review the current situation in the state, he said there could be no compromise on this count and anyone found hiding their travel history from police and health department personnel would be dealt with strictly. “We will take away their passports too,” he warned.
To further strengthen the state government’s battle against the unprecedented crisis triggered by the global pandemic, Amarinder also authorized extension for all retiring Health Department employees by three months. This was decided as the death toll due to COVID-19 went up to five, with 57 positive cases being reported in Punjab.
The government on Saturday announced special health insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh each for the police personnel and sanitation workers.
Taking serious note of the shutdown of operations by several private hospitals, the cabinet decided on strict action against such hospitals, with the Chief Minister suggesting that the health department should cancel the licences of hospitals refusing to treat COVID-19 patients. Terming it a cowardly act, the Chief Minister said they cannot go into hiding at such a critical time.
Amarinder also authorized the Procurement Committed headed by Additional Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan to do quick price discovery for all purchases related to COVID-19 management and containment and make purchases on urgent basis. The committee has been authorized to make spot purchases and exigency procurements, bypassing normal procedures, in exercise of emergency powers under the National Disaster Management ACT 2005.
He directed that no bureaucratic hassles should be allowed to come in the way of any urgent purchases that may be needed in this critical hour.
The cabinet, which met through a video conference to review the current situation in the state, decided that the arrangements to manage COVID patients should be scaled up gradually to cater to larger number of patients, keeping in view the harvesting and procurement of wheat, rising trend in the country and state as well as apprehensions of community spread (stage 3).
Contingency plan should be prepared with alternative locations, equipment, and officers to deal with any emergency situation whereby any of the existing arrangements fail or collapse, it was further decided.
Contact tracing of the Nizamuddin returnees was being done on an aggressive scale and 192 persons from the list of 255 received by the state had already been tested and isolated, the Health Department disclosed. In addition, tracking was being done for all the foreign returned, as well as high-risk categories such as healthcare professionals and police.
So far, contact tracing had been done for 1600, including 846 high-risk personnel and of them, 34 had tested positive. Geographical mapping was also being done of the movement of patients from their locations to hospitals. People were cooperating in the contact tracing process, as per the health department.
On the preparedness for tackling further spread of the disease, the cabinet was informed that 5,000 isolation beds have been identified, of which 2500 are already operational. Buildings, including hostels, are being taken over and declared isolated for the creation of such facilities, with the state planning for 20,000 cases.
To further strengthen the supplies, 20 industries have been identified for manufacturing of PPE kits and N95 masks and five of these have already been approved. Another half a dozen industries have been identified for the manufacture of low-cost ventilators.
Underlining the need for generating resources to deal with the situation on priority, Amarinder ordered expenditure cuts by all government departments to meet urgent expenses needed to deal with the current crisis. He has asked all the state departments to submit detailed proposals by April 8 on expenditure cuts to be made over the next few weeks.
“We have to save people, that should be our priority,” he said, adding that resources have to be made available to health, police and other concerned departments directly involved in the current battle, which threatens to be a long one. With no additional revenues coming in, the only way out was to cut expenditure, he stressed, adding that every department would need to make cuts in order to generate revenue for critical care services.
State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal earlier told the cabinet that the state would suffer Rs 5,000 crore in revenue losses in April and the figure was expected to go up further in the absence of revenue from GST and petroleum taxes.