Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Punjab, a worrying pattern has emerged with the rural belts reporting higher numbers of deaths. According to government statistics, the case fatality rate (CFR) or mortality rate due to COVID-19 in villages is 2.8% compared to 0.7% in urban areas.
Earlier, Punjab’s Health Minister Balbir Singh Sindhu had stated that between January 1 and April 12, 2021, 58% of COVID-19 deaths were recorded in rural Punjab, compared to only 27% of positive cases.
On April 30, the state recorded 6,132 new positive patients with 114 deaths, bringing the total count to 3,70,973.
Amardeep Singh Cheema, chairman of the Punjab Health System Corporation, attributes the increase in mortality rates to people's fear, which leads to late reporting to hospitals by patients.
“People are coming to the hospitals when symptoms are severe. They are reluctant on getting tested,” he said.
To monitor the mortality rate in Punjab, the Health Department said that they have increased rapid testing across the state. “Rapid tests helps us to save 24 to 48 hours. If someone tests positive in rapid testing, the person is isolated and provided with a kit. But the same person would also undergo RT-PCR,” an official of the Health Department said.
Also read: COVID-19: Low Contact Tracing, Less Vaccination, Govt Laxity Behind Surge in Punjab
Fear of testing and isolation among the public, according to Cheema, is a major factor in the increase in cases.
“In families where a person is the sole breadwinner, they are worried about the family’s survival in case they test positive and are put in isolation. This is the primary reason. The only way to decrease mortality rate curve is the early testing and we are working on that,” he added.
Meanwhile, in the Guru Govind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Punjab’s Faridkot district, doctors are having a tough time dealing with patients who are leaving the hospital against their advice. According to them, suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients are leaving the hospital without permission. So far, 25 such patients have left since a surge in COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the state, the hospital management claimed.
“We call such patients as LAMA (Left Against Medical Advice). We have informed the district authorities and police authorities to ensure that they are in home isolation,” Sheikh Mittal, medical superintendent of the hospital, told NewsClick.
Also read: Is Punjab Prepared for the Second Wave of COVID-19?
Mittal highlighted the ignorance and lack of awareness among people as the reason behind such incidents.
Meanwhile, highlighting the problems involved in contact tracing, COVID-19 nodal officer, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, alleged that many contacts refuse to get tested. “The major challenge is that asymptomatic cases are spreading it to others. People are not being tested on time. We are improving our contact tracing but people are taking the virus lightly. We are losing precious lives on a daily basis. The contacts are reluctant to get tested,” he told NewsClick.
Vaccination, according to Bhaskar, is the way to move forward. Due to "non-availability" of the vaccine, the Punjab government announced on April 30 about the postponing of vaccinations for 18-45 years. On the same day, CM Captain Amarinder Singh stated that vaccines are in short supply and that the vaccines obtained were insufficient to fulfil the “two-dose requirements” of the 45+ age group.
“Less people are getting vaccinated because we are facing shortage of vaccines. The 45+ age group has a population of around 70 lakh. We have vaccinated approximately 20 lakh with the first dose,” Bhaskar told NewsClick.
Reportedly, pilgrims returning from Pakistan after celebrating Baisakhi were involved in a scuffle and tore down health documents at the Attari Integrated Check Post (AICP). The pilgrims, officials alleged, were hesitant to be screened because they had already been tested a week before leaving for Pakistan.
Speaking to NewsClick, an official spokesperson of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee which facilitates the visit to Pakistan for religious events, said, “Yes, they were reluctant to get tested and fought with the officials. People have a lot of misconceptions about the virus. They believe that they are being targeted because of the virus.”
Among those who did get tested, around 98 tested positive and were asked to observe home isolation.