By Express News Service
CHANDIGARH: Punjab Government employees failing to take even the first dose of the Covid vaccine for any reason other than medical will be compulsorily sent on leave after September 15.
The government also ordered an extension of the existing Covid restrictions till September 30, in view of the upcoming festival season, with a limit of 300 on all gatherings, including political, and strict enforcement of wearing of masks as well as social distancing.
At the high-level virtual Covid review meeting held on Friday, this strong measure was announced by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to protect the people from the disease and to ensure that those who are vaccinated do not have to pay the price for continued vaccine hesitancy of those who are not.
Amarinder said vaccine effectiveness is evident from the data being analysed. Special efforts were taken to reach out to government employees, and those who continue to avoid getting vaccinated will now be asked to go on leave till they get the first dose.
The state had already vaccinated more than 57% of the eligible population, with the first dose administered to 1.18 crore and second to 37.81 lakh people. The CM has now ordered a further intensification of the vaccination drive. Teachers, parents of young children and vendors should be given priority for inoculation against Covid, he directed.
Amarinder also allowed teaching and non-teaching school staffers, who had taken at least one dose of vaccine more than four weeks ago, to resume duties, subject to submission of weekly RTPCR negative test reports. However, all those with co-morbidities shall only be allowed once they are fully vaccinated, he added.
School Education Secretary Krishan Kumar earlier pointed out that currently, only fully vaccinated staff members are allowed to come to schools. Health Minister Balbir Sidhu suggested gap for the second dose to be reduced for the school staff to 28 days but Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan informed the meeting that the Centre had rejected the state’s request to allow them to be treated as essential services.
Amarinder noted with satisfaction that with aggressive testing, the situation in schools had remained under control. As many as 3,21,969 school students along with 33,854 teaching and non-teaching staff samples have been taken in the month of August, across a total of 5799 schools, and a total of 158 cases have tested positive so far, which accounts for a positivity rate of only 0.05 per cent, he added.
Amarinder also made it mandatory for organisers, including political parties, to ensure that participants, management and staff at food stalls etc in festival-related events are fully vaccinated, or at least have had a single dose.
Calling for a continued vigil in the light of the festivals, Amarinder Singh urged all political parties to lead by example, while directing the DGP to ensure compliance with restrictions by all. The CM also directed chief secretary Vini Mahajan to make joint administration-police flying squads in each district to ensure compliance at restaurants, wedding venues etc.
Amarinder also directed the Department of Social Security to prepare to open Anganwari Centres within this month, making Punjab the first state to do so. The opening of these centres will be subject to vaccination of staff and other guidelines to be worked out jointly with the Health Department.
DR KK Talwar, head of the state’s Covid expert committee, said while the situation currently was under control, there was a need to prepare for the third wave, and also for the upcoming festival season. He urged the Chief Minister to appeal to all religious organizations to make regular announcements from temples and Gurdwaras for wearing masks. Market committees should be asked to do the same in view of the crowds expected in markets, he suggested, adding that shopkeepers and their staff should also be tested more aggressively on account of the festival season.
Citing the latest zero-survey, Amarinder revealed that for children in the age group of 6-17 years, the positivity was at 60%, and it was higher in the age bracket of 14-17 years. It was spread equally across gender and place of residence, as per the survey, which has confirmed “that our children, even though affected by Covid, have remained largely safe from serious disease,” said Amarinder.