Chandigarh: Punjab announced its first death due to COVID-19 Thursday, taking the toll in India to four. The deceased was a 70-year-old man who had arrived at Delhi airport from Germany via Italy on 7 March, before proceeding to his home in Banga, in Nawanshahr district.
A known case of diabetes and hypertension, according to a state government press note, the man was being monitored for coronavirus symptoms by health officials. He died Wednesday morning of what seemed to be a heart attack, but was confirmed as coronavirus-positive late at night.
As many as 17 people who he had come in contact with him, including three health officials, have been quarantined following his death. His village too has been locked down for screening.
Punjab starts state-wide campaign against COVID-19
Chandigarh, the union territory that serves as the capital of Punjab and Haryana, reported its first COVID-19 case Wednesday night when a 23-year-old resident of Sector 21 was found positive. She had arrived from London on 15 March, and is undergoing treatment at the government medical college in Sector 32.
Another coronavirus-positive patient from Punjab is undergoing treatment in Amritsar. He was hospitalised on arrival from Italy on 9 March. His condition is said to be stable.
Taking note of these cases, the Punjab government has launched a door-to-door awareness and surveillance campaign to assess if the virus has managed to find its way into the community. The campaign will involve health officials, police and village-level workers.
Punjab is the first Indian state to start a campaign to stem the coronavirus involving the entire population. Until now, like other states, Punjab’s efforts were limited to checking and quarantining persons arriving from countries already affected by the virus.
Punjab’s principal secretary for health, Anurag Aggarwal, told ThePrint that special teams will be covering villages and urban areas beginning this week.
“Apart from generating awareness about the disease and how to prevent it, these teams have also been authorised to report to the headquarters in case any member of the family they visit is showing signs of a suspected infection. In such cases, another team of health officials will go and conduct the screening,” he said.
The health teams have been grouped in accordance with the system followed during polio vaccination drives. In many districts, village-level police officials, anganwadi and Asha workers have also been made part of the teams.
Bus services, board exams suspended
The first COVID-19 death in the state has also prompted the group of ministers authorised by the CM to monitor the situation to suspend all private and government bus services in the state from Friday midnight.
The number of people allowed to gather has been reduced from 50 to 20, and health officials have been asked to start stamping quarantine time dates on the arms of suspected patients.
Briefing journalists following an emergent meeting Thursday morning, cabinet minister Brahm Mohindra, who heads the group of ministers, said the Punjab School Education Board would follow the decision taken by the CBSE to postpone all board examinations until 31 March, after which fresh dates will be announced.
CM Amarinder Singh has also urged the central government to allow private hospitals and labs to conduct tests in order to ensure access to all people. He said he would take up the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday, during his proposed video conference with all CMs.
Amarinder also offered to allow the 20 million tonnes of food grains currently stored in Punjab’s godowns to be distributed to the poor whose earnings were impacted due to the coronavirus outbreak, instead of letting them rot in the storage areas.
Appeal to gurudwaras
The CM also issued an appeal to gurudwaras and other religious places to limit gatherings.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar witnesses thousands of visitors each day, but has not shut its doors to devotees due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee that runs the Golden Temple has allowed people to visit the gurudwara, but only after thermal screening and three-stage sanitisation.