After Odisha, Punjab Becomes Second State to Extend Coronavirus Lockdown till May 1

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New Delhi: The Punjab government on Friday announced it would extend the coronavirus lockdown till May 1, becoming the second state after Odisha to do so, amid rising number of coronavirus cases and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh apprehending the state might be moving towards the community transmission stage of the outbreak.

The decision was taken at a video-conference meeting of the council of ministers, chaired by Singh, to check the community spread of the pandemic and to prevent overcrowding at the mandis in the light of the ensuing wheat harvesting and procurement season, the government said in a statement here.

Special Chief Secretary KBS Sidhu in a tweet earlier said the Punjab Cabinet unanimously approved the extension of the lockdown till April 30. "Extension by 21 days from today. Strict enforcement," Sidhu added.

Punjab became the second state after Odisha to extend the lockdown, even as the Centre considers proposals by several states to continue the restrictions beyond April 14, when the ongoing nationwide 21-day lockdown is slated to end.

The Punjab government statement said the Chief Minister will convey the decision of extending the lockdown to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his conference with CMs on Saturday.

Punjab was the first state in the country that had clamped curfew on March 23 to check the spread of the coronavirus.

The state has seen a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in the past few days, pushing the total count to 151 with 11 deaths till Friday evening. On Friday, 21 fresh cases were reported from the state.

Earlier in the day, Singh told a media briefing that most of the 27 positive cases reported in Punjab on Thursday (the maximum daily increase for the state) were those of secondary transmission and expressed apprehension that the state may be entering the community transmission stage of the outbreak.

Citing the grim projections about the spread of the pandemic in the coming weeks, Singh said the curfew restrictions were essential so that the state's medical infrastructure is not burdened beyond its capabilities.

There was general consensus in the medical community that the lockdown curbs would only delay the spread of the disease, he said, hoping that some medication/cure would be found soon.

On a proposal by Singh, the council of ministers also decided to set up a multi-disciplinary task force to formulate an exit strategy for gradual relaxation of curfew/lockdown. The task force comprising 15 members representing trade, business, industry, agriculture, civil society and healthcare professionals, will submit its report within 10 days.

The cabinet also approved establishment of a high-powered committee to suggest a roadmap for the state's economic revival in post-COVID-19 period.

An official release quoting Amarinder Singh said he will request former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to head the committee.

The council of ministers also resolved to urge upon the Centre to establish an Advance Centre of Virology in Punjab with an anticipated investment of Rs 500 crore. The state government will offer land free of cost for the project, it decided.

For the quick upgradation of the state's health infrastructure to combat the current crisis, the cabinet set up a task force under the Principal Secretary, PWD, to look into it.

Punjab Health Systems Corporation MD will be other members of the task force, which will carry out the task of quick upgradation of health infrastructure in a time-bound manner.

Singh asked the health department to submit a detailed proposal for this.

The Odisha government had on Thursday announced an extension of the ongoing lockdown till April 30 and declared schools and other educational institutions will remain closed till June 17.

(With inputs from PTI)