Punjab to ramp up COVID tests to 6,000 a day

Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday asked the state Health Department to ramp up the RT-PCR COVID testing facilities to 6,000 a day by May 15, instead of the targeted 5,800 a day by May-end.

He directed it to conduct its own tests on all returnees to the state instead of going by the tests done in other states.

Pointing to the large number of returnees had now tested positive, the Chief Minister said it was clear that Punjab could not rely on the tests conducted on its people stranded in other places by those respective states.

Referring to the fact that several staffers at the Nanded gurdwara itself had now tested positive, the Chief Minister said with this the Akali claim, that there were no positive cases in Nanded and the pilgrims had got infected on the way back or on reaching Punjab, had been trashed.

He once again asked the Opposition to stop indulging in petty politicking over such a grave issue.

This was a crucial time in the state’s fight against COVID, the Chief Minister said during a virtual meeting with the Council of Ministers, which took a series of decisions to scale up the state government’s coronavirus battle.

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Directing the Health Department to come out with a plan to advance its schedule for increasing the testing capacity, the Chief Minister stressed the need to be prepared for the worst.

Amarinder Singh said he had already asked the Chief Secretary to coordinate with the Central government to scale up the testing capacity to 20,000 a day, to cope with the influx of migrants and others expected to return to the state over the next few weeks in the wake of the new directives of the government of India.

The rapid testing would also need to be scaled exponentially, to at least two lakh, once it resumes, the Chief Secretary said.

The Chief Minister said he had also asked the Baba Farid University Vice-Chancellor to explore the feasibility of setting up a testing facility in Jalandhar, for which the government was ready to sanction an immediate grant of Rs 1 crore.

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The Chief Minister’s directions on augmenting the testing facilities came two days after he ordered strict quarantining of those returning to Punjab from other states, and in the wake of test reports of 292 people returning from Maharashtra showing positive.

In response to a suggestion by some of the ministers, the Chief Minister agreed to examine their proposal for home quarantine of the returnees in coordination with sarpanches and panchayats.

Amarinder Singh told the Cabinet that he had deputed individual officers to coordinate with each state for facilitating the return of Punjabis.

Health Minister Balbir Sidhu assured the Chief Minister that all pending testing reports would be cleared in the next day or two, to ensure that there is no delay in identifying and addressing positive cases.

He said arrangements for increasing testing by roping in a private lab had also been finalized and 2,000 samples from across the state had been sent to them on Saturday.

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