Ludhiana: As Punjab continues to grapple with rising Covid cases, the civil hospital in the state’s Ludhiana district appears like an oasis of calm. It is the only government tertiary care facility in what has emerged as one of the state’s worst-performing districts. However, families of Covid positive patients, who spend hours in the waiting area, say getting a bed has not been a problem.
This — in part — tells the story of how people in the city are reluctant to come to hospitals when infected with Covid-19.
On Friday, Punjab reported 3,176 Covid cases and 59 deaths, the highest-single day spike this year, taking the state’s active case tally up to 22,652 and deaths to 6,576. Ludhiana houses nearly a quarter of the state’s cases and deaths.
As of 26 March, the district has recorded 32,476 total cases and 1,103 deaths.
Ludhiana has been a constant in the state’s five worst-performing districts since the beginning of the pandemic. The other four are — Jalandhar, Patiala, SAS Nagar and Amritsar. With a population of 35 lakh — according to the 2011 census — in an area of 159 km square, the district has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 3.4 per cent — higher than the state’s average (3 per cent), and more than double the national average (1.37 per cent). There is only one containment zone and nine micro-containment zones in the city.
According to health ministry data, Ludhiana is also among India’s top 15 districts with highest active coronavirus cases.
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Lockdown fatigue, fear of losing business
Despite such staggering numbers, people continue to throng the streets, without any social distancing or masks.
“People think that the government is lying, that it is getting paid for every Covid death. They give the example of ongoing farmers’ protest at Tikri and Singhu borders. ‘Why are they not being infected,’ they ask. I explained to them how people can be asymptomatic but still infectious but they just don’t want to listen,” a health department official told ThePrint.
The official added that lockdown fatigue and the fear of losing their business for the second time over a span of just one year is the reason people are not afraid of getting infected anymore.
“CFR has increased because people are coming to hospital when oxygen saturation is below 50-60 per cent and lungs have pneumonia patches. This is when they have to be put on ventilators but data shows that chances of survival on it are very low,” he added.
Of the roughly 5,000 daily tests conducted in the district, majority are RT-PCR, while the rest are antigen tests. On 26 March, the district conducted 5,359 tests, of which 4,547 were RT-PCR tests. 395 people tested positive. But with no motivation to even wear a mask or follow social distancing, the willingness to get tested for Covid is even less.
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Random testing, challan for not wearing masks
Punjab’s health department, in coordination with the police, has started conducting random RT-PCR tests at public places such as nakabandis, factories and schools, from 22 March. For this, the district has been divided into six zones. Since then, 7,521 people have been tested of which 16 were Covid positive.
“In the second wave of Covid we have taken a two pronged approach — challan against those who aren’t wearing masks and conducting on the spot Covid tests. Every day we do 1,000-1,500 tests,” Deepak Pareek, Joint CP Ludhiana told ThePrint. Masks are also being distributed to the poor for free.
On 26 March, 160 mask violations were reported in the district, with the day’s challan mounting up to Rs 1,60,000. Meanwhile, 627 RT-PCR tests were conducted. Ludhiana Police has collected a total of Rs 7,95,55,100 in fines in the last one year.
Ludhiana is home to several industries of hosiery, cycle, tyre and auto parts — from small-scale manufacturers to big names such as Hindustan Tyre, Hero Cycles and Monte Carlo. Random testing was conducted in factories where the owners allowed it. “Some were really hesitant while others cooperated with us very well in this process,” another health department official told ThePrint.
The first round of random testing at factories took place in September last year and went on for four months. Seventy-five per cent of the factories were covered through rapid antigen tests, the official said. “Positivity rate was very low, around 1-1.5 per cent, the workers there have high immunity,” he said.
However, this time around, RT-PCR tests are being conducted, data of which is not yet available.
‘Ludhiana in a better position now’
Ludhiana saw its last Covid peak in September 2020, where it recorded a majority of the state’s Covid cases and deaths. Six months on, this continues to be the case. However, Varinder Sharma, Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana says the district is in a “better position” now.
“Ludhiana is bigger in size that’s why there are so many cases. You cannot look at absolute numbers, our cases per lakh are low. We are in a better position today than we were during the last peak in September,” Sharma told ThePrint.
On the district’s healthcare infrastructure, he maintains it is the best in the state such that several people from neighbouring districts and even states have come here for treatment. Ludhiana is currently home to 20 private and one government hospital that provides tertiary care facilities. This is a significant jump from the zero tertiary care facilities in its government hospitals in September 2020.
Ludhiana is also Punjab’s first district that will launch a doorstep vaccination programme for people above the age of 45, starting 1 April. With a focus on industries, villages and residential areas, three-four mobile teams will be launched. “It is our moral duty to vaccinate everyone. This service is for those who cannot come to healthcare centres to get inoculated — the elderly for instance or labourers who will have to take a day off from work,” another health department official told ThePrint.
Of over 700 beds in the district — 260 tertiary care and 450 secondary care facilities — around 300 remain empty. Sharma claims that the district has also vaccinated the highest number of people in the state — 1,35,000. As of 26 March, Punjab has vaccinated 6,66,395 people, of which just 94,954 have received both the doses.
“Sense of responsibility has increased in the people in the last two weeks. During festival season, everyone became very lax. But we have carried out several drives to spread awareness and compliance is increasing with every passing day,” he said.
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