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Will follow curfew till May 3: Punjab CM to all-party leaders

Chandigarh, Citing the gravity of the coronavirus situation, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday announced the state would follow complete curfew till May 3 in line with the extension in the national lockdown.

He assured all political parties of aggressive measures, including large-scale testing, in continuing war against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even as he appreciated the support extended by them to his government, the Chief Minister urged all political parties to unitedly fight the battle against the virus, rising above political considerations.

Speaking at an all-party meeting to coronavirus, the Chief Minister said the state would actively consider all their suggestions to ensure an effective and holistic response to the current crisis.

e said the entire country, and in fact the world, was going through bad times with Punjab no exception. The lockdown so far had helped curb the spread, and the state's count of cases was currently among the lowest in the country.

Pointing out that medical experts were suggesting that five weeks of lockdown could really improve the situation, he promised all-out efforts to succeed in the battle against the pandemic.

In response to various suggestions made during the meeting, the Chief Minister said he had taken note of all, especially the concerns relating to the workers, and would take steps to address them.

Acceding to his government's request, the Centre had already allowed commencement of operations in industries that could accommodate migrant labourers, and four had already started operating in Bathinda, with Ludhiana also gearing up to begin working, he said.

The task force set up to formulate the exit strategy for the state would make its recommendations within 10 days on the way forward, he said.

The Chief Minister said the state was continuously scaling up the testing to check the spread of the pandemic, with all three medical colleges were now equipped to conduct the tests with a capacity of 1,200 a day.

This was in addition to the tests being conducted by the PGI in Chandigarh, while Dayanand Medical College and Christian Medical College, both in Ludhiana, were awaiting approval to commence testing.

Amarinder Singh also assured the party leaders that random testing, which begun in two districts on Tuesday, would be expanded to all districts eventually, and would also be conducted in villages.

He assured them of all measures to ensure protection of the frontline workers, saying all were being given personal protective equipment (PPE) kits.

On a suggestion from the Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal, the Chief Minister directed the Health Department to consider getting approval for testing at the SGPC-run hospitals in order to scale up the tests further.

He said he had written to the Prime Minister seeking release of the MPLAD funds to enable the MPs to use it for the fight against COVID in their districts, and had also sought Rs 729 crore for upgradation of hospitals on priority.

On their part, leaders of all the parties extended their unequivocal support to the government.

"We are with you," they told the Chief Minister, appreciating the work being done by the state in handling the COVID-19 crisis amid the lockdown.

There was consensus among all parties on the need to take strict action against, even takeover of, private hospitals not supporting the government in these critical times, a government statement said.

On the issue of most private hospitals and OPDs being closed, Amarinder Singh said they had already been issued a stern warning and action would be taken against those not heeding it.

In many cases, he said, the infrastructure of private hospitals was being used by the government in the pandemic battle.

Health Minister Balbir Sidhu said equipment of such hospitals had been hired on Central Government Health Scheme rates.

In response to a question, the Chief Minister said three hospitals in Pathankot had been notified as Covid hospitals and necessary equipment was being provided to all.

All leaders also unanimously called for comprehensive steps for the revival of the industry post the lockdown.

Several of them raised the issue of the Sikh pilgrims stranded at Hazoor Sahib in Nanded, in response to which the Chief Minister assured that he had already spoken to the Central government and the pilgrims would be brought back as soon as the Centre allows inter-state movement.
April 14 (IANS) 

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