COVID: Punjab allows reopening of schools for Classes 10 to 12 from July 26; to conduct sero-survey for kids

By PTI
CHANDIGARH: The Punjab government on Tuesday ordered reopening of schools for Classes 10 to 12 from July 26 as it further relaxed Covid curbs.

Besides, the state government also announced to increase the number of people for indoor events to 150 and outdoor programmes to 300, subject to an upper limit of 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue, a statement said.

Earlier, the gathering of 100 persons for indoor and 200 for outdoor events was allowed.

During a Covid review meeting, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said schools will be allowed to open for Classes 10 to 12, but only those teachers and staff will be allowed to be physically present who are fully vaccinated.

The presence of students at schools shall be purely at the consent of parents and the option of virtual classes shall be continued.

An undertaking to this effect shall be submitted to the deputy commissioner concerned, he said, according to the statement.

If the situation remains under control, the remaining classes will similarly be allowed to open from August 2, the CM announced, pointing out that the UK’s Cambridge University has predicted that the cases will further decline in the coming weeks.

With respect to social gatherings, the CM said artists or musicians shall be allowed at such functions or celebrations in all areas, with adherence to Covid protocols.

The relaxations came days after the CM had ordered opening of bars, cinema halls, restaurants, spas, swimming pools, coaching centres, sports complexes, gyms, malls, museums and zoos etc.

The state government had also earlier allowed colleges, coaching centres and all other institutions of higher learning to open with similar compliance.

The CM during a virtual review meeting said the month-wise whole genome sequencing has shown that the original virus has been replaced by variants and the Delta variant remained predominant even in the month of June.

However, there are no new cases of the Delta Plus variant, he said.

The state will also start a sero survey, especially focused on children in the age group of 6 to 17 ahead of a possible third Covid wave.

The survey will start this month.

Sero surveys or sero prevalence studies are based on analysis of antibodies collected through blood samples.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the outcome of the sentinel sero-surveillance survey, aimed to assess the prevalence of the infection among under 18, will be utilised to determine further localised restrictions as the state prepares for the third wave, according to a government statement.

GIS-based surveillance and prevention tools will be used with an auto trigger mechanism for localised restrictions, he said.

Dr KK Talwar, head of Punjab’s expert committee on COVID-19, said in the first and second waves, 10 per cent of those infected were under 18 and while there was no concrete data to support such a projection, the state was preparing to handle more cases of children in the third wave.

The chief minister also ordered establishment of a paediatric unit in each district and one centre of excellence in paediatrics for the state.

While announcing Rs 331 crore for a possible third wave, in addition to the money already allotted for emergency Covid response, the CM said the government will establish liquid medical oxygen storage tanks in every district to ensure round the clock availability of the life-saving gas.

Medical gas pipeline systems will also be set up at each district and sub-division level, he said.

He also announced the establishment of 17 additional RT-PCR labs.

ICU beds in government hospitals shall also be increased to 142, and a hub and spoke model for telemedicine and teleconsultation will also be established, said Amarinder Singh.

The CM expressed satisfaction over the strategy for the preparation of the third wave, pointing out that testing has been maintained around 40,000- 45,000 a day, with special focus on high density areas and vulnerable population.

Contact tracing has also been maintained at 18 per positive patient.

Talwar further informed the meeting that Punjab was currently in a comfortable situation though the fear of a third wave continued, with the Indian Council of Medical Research predicting it by end of August or start of September.

The situation may not be as bad as in the second wave unless a new variant comes before that, he noted.

He, however, stressed the need for extreme caution with crowds building up even as cases were on the rise in some states.

The CM also announced extension of benefits of existing schemes for persons with disability to those suffering from any disability caused by mucormycosis.

The benefits will be extended as per the nature and degree of the disability, he said.

The chief minister directed the Medical Education Department to establish post-COVID care centres in government medical college hospitals for free follow-up of the cured cases of mucormycosis.

Though mucormycosis cases had declined, with only 3-4 cases reported per day last week, he directed the concerned departments to monitor the situation and keep close tabs on patients recovering from Covid.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday demanded 40 lakh more COVID-19 vaccine doses from the Centre on an urgent basis to inoculate the state’s eligible population.

Singh said the state was expecting 2.46 lakh doses to arrive Tuesday but noted that vaccines remain in short supply as it has run out of Covishield and was left with a mere 3,500 Covaxin doses as of Monday.

Punjab has already vaccinated more than 90 lakh eligible people (nearly 37 per cent of the eligible population) and has been utilising the stock without any wastage, the CM said in an official statement after a review meeting.

The Centre needs to arrange for immediate delivery of vaccines to the state to meet the shortfall and enable inoculation of all those needing the second dose, while continuing with the vaccination of other eligible persons, he said.

Pointing out that doses being supplied to private hospitals are getting wasted as people prefer government hospitals for free inoculation, Health Secretary Hussan Lal informed the meeting that the state has sought diversion of the stocks from the private hospitals but had not received any response so far from the Centre.