The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories, and Punjab has been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban citizens were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein, even to see for last time one’s loved ones who succumbed to the coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on ‘Rural Realities | Punjab and Haryana Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages’ on May 19, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Kashish Babbar and the IMPRI team, who provided an overview of the Covid-19 situation in India, with special reference to Punjab to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.
The state lies in the northern part of the country; it shares an international border with Pakistan to the West. To the North of the State lies Jammu and Kashmir, to the North-East lies the state of Himachal Pradesh, to the South East, Haryana, and to the South, Rajasthan. The city of Chandigarh is the shared capital of Punjab and Haryana.
The name Punjab comes from two Persian words: ‘Panj’ meaning five and ‘abb’ meaning water, signifying the five rivers that flow through the state. i.e. Beas, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Satluj. According to the 2011 census, the population of the State is 2.77 crore wherein, the rural population constitutes 117.2 lakh. The state has five divisions of Patiala, Rupnagar, Jalandhar, Faridkot and Firozpur. Punjab has 81 tehsils and 12,278 villages.
Referred to as the ‘bread basket’, the state has a predominantly agrarian economy. The state ranks 12 in the Sustainable Development Goals Index among other states and ranks 10 according to Per Capita Income. The State houses a majority of its population in rural areas at 63%, which is very close to the national average of 69%. The sex ratio of the state is very low at 895. The literacy rate of the state that is 76% also lies very close to the national literacy rate of 73%.
During the pandemic, the State has born a heavy burden of the national caseload, though it still fared better than many other states. Post teh peak of the first wave at the end of September, the State had approximately 1 lakh cases and 3,000 fatalities.
As of May 18, 2021, the total number of patients who tested positive was 504,586, the number of active cases were 73,616 and total deaths reported were 12,086. The number of people who have been vaccinated with their first dose of Covid-19 (including healthcare and frontline workers) was 829,931 and those with both the doses were 240,117.
Further, the population above 45 who have been vaccinated with the first dose was 2,603,790 and those vaccinated with second wave was 434,026.
As the Covid cases registered an upswing and the Punjab government set up a control room to monitor supply, demand and distribution of the life-saving gas in the last week of April, the demand for oxygen in Punjab doubled in a fortnight as of May 11, 2021, from 152 metric tonnes to 304 metric tonnes on Sunday.
The rural regions of Sangrur and Haryana during the second wave have shown alarming fatality rates. The cases in rural areas were doubling every 10 days. Punjab has the highest number of cases of the UK variant and mutation N501Y. The State had a case fatality rate of 2.4%, which was higher than the national average. More worrying is that the case fatality rate is higher in rural areas of the state.
Punjab extended a complete lockdown till May 12 at the onset of the second wave. The state was one of the 12 states to begin vaccination immediately in the month of May for the age group 18-44. Approximately 41 lakh people had been vaccinated. The state faced concerns of migrant labour where the pandemic has severely hit the livelihood. The health infrastructure in rural areas is excessively stressed and there is a lack of awareness of the Covid-19 health protocols.
In order to minimise the impact of second wave and prepare for the upcoming third wave, issues of lack of oxygen, health infrastructure and vaccination, which has also added to the financial burden on most rural as well as urban households, need to be addressed to order to move towards healthy and prosperous Punjab.
YouTube Video for Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Punjab
Contributors: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary, Kashish Babbar, Tarishi Chaturvedi, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar and IMPRI Team