At a time when reports suggest a large number of people in rural areas are refusing to get tested for coronavirus, the Punjab government said it is trying to make the process easier. The state has decided to allow free walk-in COVID-19 testing in government hospitals and mobile vans, and similar testing for a nominal cost not exceeding Rs 250 by private doctors and hospitals. Those who want their result immediately can also opt for rapid antigen test (RAT), while RT-PCR test will also be available.
Punjab will explore similar arrangements for rapid antigen test by pharmacists and chemists, on the lines of private hospitals and doctors, the state government said. The decision was taken on Thursday by Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, who said the government will provide training and medical kits to private hospitals and doctors for the tests, which will be allowed on the basis of Aadhaar card and mobile numbers, without any questions asked or need for more documents. With test results available for RAT in 30 minutes, this will lead to a substantial increase in testing and early diagnosis and treatment, Ms Mahajan said.
Those who test positive via RAT or are symptomatic but negative can be tested again through RT-PCR test for confirmation, said the Chief Secretary while reviewing the COVID-19 situation with district commissioners and civil surgeons of Patiala, Bathinda, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Mohali.
The test results and data collected by private hospitals and chemists can be uploaded on the government website for further action, Ms Mahajan said.
The Chief Secretary said the 104 helpline number will provide real-time information on bed availability district-wise, and directed the DCs and civil surgeons to ensure adequate supply of oxygen cylinders in their districts.
She asked the DCs to review city-wise and area-wise positivity rates to identify hotspots better, with daily monitoring of the positivity and negativity rates and week-to-week monitoring of trends.
"All districts should have reasonable projections at hand for the month," Ms Mahajan said. She asked the district authorities to work with private hospitals to make them partners in testing, and asked the DCs to set up meetings with these institutions through the Indian Medical Association.
Taking note of rumours and fake news about COVID-19, Ms Mahajan asked elected representatives to step in and reach out directly to people to clear their misconceptions on the issue. She underlined the need to involve non-profits and other groups to spread awareness.
Health Secretary Hussain Lal underlined the need for extensive sampling and testing in the five worst-affected districts - Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali and Amritsar - with focus on those above 40 years.
Ludhiana DC Varinder Kumar said the district was focusing on sampling in urban areas, since 85 per cent of the cases had been reported from these areas, especially among the middle class. The stigma attached to testing was high even though positivity rate in the district was less than 10 per cent, with Ludhiana city reporting 5 per cent and industrial units around 1-2 per cent positivity, he said, adding that psychological counselling for those in home isolation was also being provided.
Jalandhar DC Ghanshyam said the urban-rural positivity was in the ratio of 10.30 per cent to 4.04 per cent. In some areas, however, the rate was as high as 30-40 per cent. Mohali DC Girish Dayalan said the staff of certain private hospitals were refusing to be on duty. The Chief Secretary directed the Medical Education Department to take action against such medical professionals.