CHANDIGARH: Taking strong exception to the Centre's criticism of the COVID-19 management in Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday said the state's rate of tests per million was higher than the national average and claimed the situation would have been better if the central government had not "delayed" the vaccination process.
Had the central government acceded to the state's request for allowing vaccination of all 50-plus category population earlier, instead of delaying it by almost two months to include those aged above 45, the situation would have been better than present, he said.
Singh was reacting to the Centre's charge that Punjab was not doing enough coronavirus testing and isolating infected people.
In a statement on Wednesday, the chief minister said his government had put severe restrictions on social gatherings and closed all educational institutions, with night curfews imposed from 9 pm to 5 am in the severely affected 11 districts.
Singh also said a decision on stricter restrictions will be taken after a review of the situation in the state on April 8.
The chief minister's warning to impose harsher restrictions if the situation does not improve by next week comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the state.
He said the state government had been repeatedly requesting the Centre in writing as well as in meetings attended by the chief secretary that the current strategy of immunisation needs review.
Vaccination in a campaign that covers all age groups in selected areas will lead to better outcomes than the periodic cycles of vaccination targeting a small section of the population at each cycle, he stressed, underlining the need for such approach in any area where weekly testing shows a doubling of positivity rate.
He reiterated his demand for permission for occupation-based immunization for school and college students and teachers, judges, bus drivers and conductors, panches/ sarpanches, mayors, MLAs, MPs, etc. everywhere.
He also took note of the delay in receiving reports of genome sequencing.
Of the 874 samples sent, only 588 reports had been received so far, of which 411 samples were found positive for B.1.1.7 (the UK variant) and two samples for N440K.
The implication of presence of the UK variant mutant needs to be looked into and appropriate advice is required to be shared with the state, Singh said.
The chief minister said that during the first peak in September 2020, the positivity rate was around 10 and the state was testing 30,000 samples per day.
Now, when the positivity is over 7 per cent, the state is testing around 40,000 samples per day.
The state is consistently testing around 90 per cent RT-PCR and about 10 rapid antigen tests and its per million testing is 1,96,667 while the national average is 1,82,296, he said.
The state had very limited capacity of testing RT-PCR when this pandemic started.
It was about 40 samples per day and within a very short span of time, the capacity was ramped up to more than 25,000 tests per day, he said.
The state is consistently utilizing its optimal RT-PCR capacity.
The government of India's institutions like IISER, IMTech, PGIMER are supporting the state to the extent of only about 100 samples per day, the chief minister said, adding that the state can increase RAT testing to any level if there is need to do so.
During the first peak in September 2020, Punjab had increased contact tracing to 10 contacts per positive case.
Now, during the second peak, "we are tracing more than 15 contacts per positive case," he added.
Punjab has been neither conducting adequate number of tests nor been able to promptly isolate COVID-19 positive people, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.