Chandigarh: As many as 13 Punjab Civil Services (PCS) officers tested positive for Covid-19 in the last five days after they attended a protest meeting in Chandigarh.
The meeting, attended by 36 PCS officers, was held on 3 July to protest against the arrest of a regional transport authority officer posted in Faridkot for alleged corruption.
It all began with Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC), Ludhiana, Amarjeet Singh Bains, testing positive on 4 July, a day after the meeting was held. From 4 July (Saturday) to Thursday, 12 other officers tested positive.
Among these officers are two additional deputy commissioners, and seven sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs).
The infected officers are — Rajiv Gupta, additional secretary, Power, Paviter Singh, SDM, Phagwara, Gurvinder Singh Johl, SDM, Ropar, Neeru Katyal, ADC, Jagraon, Harjit Singh Cheema, SDM, Sangrur, Amit Kumar Mahajan, SDM, Hoshiarpur, Jagdeep Sehgal, SDM, Mohali, Sanjeev Sharma, SDM, Shahkot, Balbir Pal Singh, PCS officer posted in Hoshiarpur, Deepankar Garg, PCS officer posted in Chandigarh, Sandeep Garha, SDM, Khanna, and Harjeet Singh Sandhu, Director, Industries, Chandigarh.
Of the 36 officers who attended the meeting, 31 have been tested for Covid. Of these, 13 have tested positive and 18 are negative.
Most of the Covid-infected officers were engaged in day-to-day pandemic control operations, which are now likely to be hit.
Government officials said most of these officers have been advised to self-isolate, but some of them have chosen to be admitted in government and private hospitals.
The state government has also given the officers an option to shift themselves or their family to circuit houses.
More cases likely, contact-tracing is on
Most of the 13 officers have held meetings with ministers, senior officers, including Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, and deputy commissioners, after 3 July.
Mahajan was tested for Covid, and her reports came out to be negative Wednesday.
A PCS officer, who attended the meeting, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that after the 3 July meeting, at least a dozen officers went straight to the Punjab Civil Secretariat in Sector 1, Chandigarh, to meet Mahajan. The meeting with the chief secretary lasted about 15-20 minutes, said the officer.
Two of the officers, who had met the chief secretary, have tested Covid-positive.
When ThePrint reached Mahajan via calls and texts for a comment on the matter, there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
At least one Cabinet minister and host of senior officers, who had met the 13 officers, are yet to be tested.
Deputy Commissioner, Ropar, Sonali Giri tested positive Thursday morning after her SDM, Gurvinder Singh Johl, who attended the Chandigarh meeting, tested positive.
SDM of Payal, Mankanwal Singh, who had met SDM of Khanna and Ludhiana ADC, both of who attended the meeting, also tested positive Thursday.
The Punjab health department is now tracing and testing members of the 13 officers’ families, personal staff, and others they met during public dealings, official meetings and functions after 3 July.
“Contact-tracing of the officers, who have tested positive, after the Chandigarh meeting is currently underway,” said Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, the state nodal officer for control of the pandemic.
Staff of deputy commissioners’ (DC) offices in Hoshiarpur, Mohali, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Ropar, Ludhiana are also being tested. This is because SDMs sit at DC offices in many districts.
The DCs are also being tested. Ludhiana DC’s Covid report has come negative, while reports of other DCs are awaited.
The meeting was called to protest against the arrest of regional transport authority officer Faridkot, Tarsem Chand on 23 June in connection with a corruption case.
Chand was arrested along with his driver. According to a statement by the state vigilance bureau last month, Chand’s driver was caught red-handed while accepting a bribe of Rs 15,000 to grant permission for running a bus service.
Chand was released on 25 June on an interim bail for six weeks. He was also present at the meeting, but he tested negative.
Members of the Punjab Civil Services Officers Association were of the view that Chand had been falsely booked and the case was politically motivated.
Gupta, additional secretary, power, who had organised the meeting, told ThePrint the meeting was called on the request of the district-level units of the PCS officers association.
“They felt very strongly that wrong had been done to Tarsem Chand. Seventeen-eighteen officers had come from the districts while others were from Chandigarh and Mohali (adjoining Chandigarh) and joined the meeting later,” said Gupta, who is also the president of association.
“Since many of these officers have been working in the field for several months now as frontline warriors, we really do not know who was the asymptomatic carrier. We are not even sure if the infection spread in the meeting or these officers who are positive were already carrying it. Many officers who attended the meeting have also reported negative,” he said.
The meeting, which lasted for over 2 hours, took place at the banquet hall of a hotel located in Sector 42, Chandigarh.
“During the meeting, we observed social distancing and everyone was wearing masks. I don’t think anybody shook hands either. Nobody seemed to be unwell or was coughing or sneezing. Everyone seemed to be absolutely fine,” said the PCS officer quoted above.
‘Don’t know how the virus spread’
According to the PCS officer quoted above: “The first person to have fallen sick immediately after the meeting was the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana, Amarjeet Singh Bains, who got himself tested immediately, and reported positive Saturday. Other officers started showing symptoms subsequently.”
“The two officers sitting around Bains were SDM, Khanna, Sandeep Garha and Harjeet Singh Sandhu, Director Industries, Chandigarh. Both have tested positive,” he added.
But many officers, who were sitting closer to them, have tested negative, while those who were sitting far away, have tested positive, he added.
“We really don’t know how the virus actually spread,” said the officer, even though he admitted that the meeting should not have been called under the given circumstances.
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