Chandigarh, April 28 (Punjab Mail)- Even as he hinted at certain relaxations, with restrictions and precautions, in the coming days, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday announced compulsory 21-day state quarantine for all those returning to the state from other places to check further spread of Covid.

All pilgrims returning from Nanded, and students & labourers coming from Rajasthan, will be stopped at the border and sent to Government quarantine centres to ensure that they do not mix with other people for 21 days, said the Chief Minister, adding that Radha Soami Satsang Deras would also be used to quarantine these people, whose return was being facilitated by his government since the past 3 days.

The Chief Minister made this announcement even as he indicated that his government could go for certain relaxations, while taking all precautions, based on the report of the Expert Committee formulating the state’s Covid-19 curfew/lockdown exit strategy.

Captain Amarinder was discussing the Covid and lockdown situation, as well as the ongoing procurement operations, in the state with Congress MLAs through a Video Conference.

There was largely a consensus among the MLAs to continue with strictness for another couple of weeks with very limited relaxations in certain areas only, and borders to remain sealed not just around the state but also among the districts and around the villages. Any Covid patients should be hospitalised/treated within their own district, to limit outside contact and exposure, they opined, advising extreme cautions in lifting restrictions.

The Chief Minister urged the MLAs set an example by taking all precautions while executing their public responsibilities. PPCC president Sunil Jakhar was present at the VC, along with representatives from various Assembly constituencies.

On a request from Uttar Pradesh to send back their migrant labourers after quarantining them in Punjab, the Chief Minister said he shall convey to his counterpart there that this has to be done by his government and not by Punjab.

The Chief Minister further made it clear that his government would make all efforts to retain and care for the migrant labourers, whose return was now being facilitated by various states, such as Uttar Pradesh. “We need to look after them so that they do not leave Punjab, where they are needed to help out in the procurement operations as well as the industries that we are gradually opening up,” he said.

Pointing out that cases were continuing to rise even 35 days after the lockdown was imposed, the Chief Minister said the Central Government had indicated, based on various inputs and studies, that the increasing trend would continue till July. However, in response to a question on the need for a lockdown, he said later that the lockdown was necessary to delay the spread as far as possible to enable the nation to prepare better if the situation worsens, and also in the hope of a vaccine.

Punjab had already lost 19 lives, with 330 cases as of last count, he observed, adding that after the NRIs and the Tabligi Jamaat, the latest threat of the spread of the disease in the state was on account of the pilgrims who were coming back from Gurdwara Hazoor Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra). Another large Jatha was expected to return to Punjab on Wednesday and the state government planned to put all of them in quarantine in the Radha Soami deras, he added.

In response to some concerns expressed during the meeting, the Chief Minister assured that there would be no shortage of bales to handle the bumper wheat crop. He also reiterated that there would be no FIRs against owners/CEOs of industries in case of any incidence of Covid.

Jakhar suggested allowing industries in rural areas to operate at night to prevent workers from mixing. On the issue of lifting of lockdown, he also urged caution, while emphasizing the need to flatten the curve but not flattening the economy. He suggested classification of Covid zones at the village level to ensure better management of the relaxations, as and when they come. He also suggested launching a campaign to check the spread of dengue in the coming monsoon season. He also urged the state government to provide advance payment of pensions and other social security allowances amid the current crisis. The PPCC chief blamed the Akalis and BJP for the PPAs, through which the Centre was putting burden on the state.

The issue of shortage of testing facilities, ventilators, relief ration kits etc were raised by many of the MLAs, with Pathankot’s Amit Vij and Bhoa’s Joginder Pal calling for more sampling. They also suggested books being made available to government school students as they could not all attend online classes, with many of the poor not having smart phones. They further called for free internet use and free of cost health facilities for the people amid this unprecedented crisis.

Gurdaspur’s Barindermeet Singh Pahra said testing facilities should be made available at district level (at present, samples are being sent to Amritsar). The Chief Minister said the state government was trying to procure approval for testing at GADVASU and PAU, and was also awaiting new Rapid Testing Kits as the earlier ones were found faulty. While underlining the need to increase testing, Health Minister Balbir Sidhu, who represents Phagwara, said since PPE use becomes difficult in summers, the department was exploring the option of building kiosks for testing, with the technicians remaining in it.

Apart from permission for paddy sowing to begin from June 10 in view of labour shortage, Pahra also sought directions to private sugar mills to pay the farmers they dues.

Raj Kumar Verka (Amritsar) was in favour of waiver of the Bills of the poor and of fee by schools. He and Rana Gurjeet (Kapurthala) wanted health insurance cover also for the mediapersons and contractual/temporary safai workers operating on the frontline.

Rana Gurjeet suggested that the excess milk lying with the dairies should be converted to dry milk powder for free distribution under PDS, as well as to others in need, including the middle class.

Sukhpal Singh Bhullar (Khemkaran) wanted even the green villages to be sealed during the relaxations, and suggested that no new people (pilgrims or others) should be allowed to enter villages till the completion of their quarantine period. Navtej Singh Cheema (Sultanpur Lodhi) and Bharat Bhushan Ashu (Minister & Ludhiana West MLA) also favoured strictness to continue with sector/area wise relaxations to a limited extent, while Dasayu MLA Arun Dogra expressed concern over a driver who got the pilgrims from Nanded testing positive today.

Balwinder Singh Laddi (Jalandhar) called for expediting lifting of grain from the Mandis, while Pargat Singh (Jalandhar Cantt) highlighted the problems faced by industry. The issue of home isolation for mildly infected patients was raised by Bawa Henry (Jalandhar North).

Sushil Rinku (Jalandhar West) wanted the pilgrims stranded in Majnu Ka Tila gurdwara to be brought back, to which the Chief Minister said his government had already written to Delhi government on the issue. Darshan Lal (Balachur) wanted state’s borders to be strictly sealed to prevent infected cases coming in from other places, and Angad Singh Saini (Nawanshahr) described the ongoing fight against Covid as a long-drawn battle.

Gurpreet Singh GP (Fatehgarh Sahib) suggested commencement of the Mega Milk Plant being set up at Bassi Pathana by Milkfed Punjab to support small manufacturing and labour.