Escalate COVID testing, ensure priority vaccination in highly affected districts: Centre to Punjab

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New Delhi, Mar 31 (PTI) The Centre has asked Punjab and Chandigarh to effectively implement the test-track-treat strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic, escalate testing till the positivity comes down below 5 per cent and ensure priority vaccination of eligible population groups in districts reporting high number of cases.

Punjab has reported nearly 21 per cent week-on-week increase in new COVID-19 cases and about 2,740 average daily cases in the last seven days. During the same period, the state has also seen a 30 per cent week-on-week increase in new COVID deaths and is reporting about 53 average daily deaths, the health ministry said.

Chandigarh has also followed similar pattern in the last week. The union territory has reported nearly 27 per cent week-on-week increase in new cases and 180 per cent week-on-week increase in new daily deaths, it said.

An average of about 257 daily cases and 14 daily deaths have been reported during the last week.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan chaired a high-level meeting on Wednesday along with NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul, to review the status of COVID-19 in Punjab and Chandigarh and the public health measures taken for surveillance, containment and management of the disease by the health authorities.

Through a detailed presentation, a granular analysis of the highly affected districts in Punjab and the UT of Chandigarh along with some key statistics was presented, the ministry said in its statement.

Paul re-emphasised the importance of stringent and continued measures to break the chain of transmission and not frittering away the gains of collaborative efforts of last year, it said.

Increased testing with focus on RT-PCR tests, effective contact tracing with at least 25 to 30 close contacts of each positive case, strict implementation of containment zones, intensification of vaccination drive, and enforcement of physical distancing measures were highlighted as the pivot of effective management strategy, the statement said.

'It was also re-emphasised to strengthen public and private hospital infrastructure and re-energise the healthcare workers for removal of any complacency and fatigue,' it stated.

Three fronts for tackling the recent surge were highlighted by the Union Health Secretary. On the front of testing, Punjab and Chandigarh were asked to effectively implement the 'test, track and treat' strategy and to escalate testing till the positivity comes down below 5 per cent.

They were asked to significantly increase testing in all districts with a minimum of 70 per cent RT-PCR tests and use of Rapid Antigen Tests as screening tests in densely populated areas as well as areas where cluster of cases are reported and mandatorily subject those who have tested negative in Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) to RT-PCR test, the ministry said.

'Regarding the vaccination, the state/UT were advised to ensure priority vaccination of the eligible population groups in districts reporting higher cases.

'Transfer unused vaccine doses from one district to another for optimum utilization of available vaccine doses,' it said.

They were asked to ensure no sedimentation of vaccine takes place at any level of cold chain storage, maximum utilisation of vaccination capacity in the public and private sector health facilities.

'There is no shortage of vaccination at the State/UT level. The Centre is regularly reviewing vaccine stock, and vaccine doses will be continually replenished by the Centre based on the consumption level of the states and UTs,' the statement said.

Regarding surveillance and containment, Punjab and Chandigarh were also advised that all district officers and the local administration should refocus on effective house-to-house surveillance to identify active cases with focus on timely testing, prompt contact tracing and swift isolation so as to break the chain of transmission.

They were asked to identify clusters, focus stringent implementation of micro-containment zone approach.

The Principal Secretaries (Health) of Punjab and Chandigarh along with deputy commissioners of the highly affected districts such as Amritsar, Ludhiana, SBS Nagar and Jalandhar shared their feedback on the activities being undertaken in the districts to break the chain of transmission, preparation of hospital infrastructure, clinical treatment protocols in hospitals to reduce mortality, and awareness campaigns. PTI PLB SMN SMN SMN