Punjab on Friday extended the lockdown to fight coronavirus up to May 1, becoming the second state after Odisha to do so as its count of COVID-19 cases rose to 151 and the government feared that the outbreak is heading towards the community transmission stage.
At its meeting conducted through video conferencing, the state cabinet also approved a draft ordinance to rope in private hospitals in the state's efforts to combat COVID-19.
The Punjab Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Ordinance 2020 will enforce registration and 'compliance of clinical standards', the government said.
'Given the seriousness of the situation arising out of #Covid19, Cabinet has decided to extend lockdown & curfew till 1st May. These are difficult times & I appeal to all to #StayHomeStaySafe & strictly observe health safeguards as you have done so far, for which I am thankful,' Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted.
Punjab Special Chief Secretary K B S Sidhu also tweeted about the decision. "Strict enforcement," he said.
The decision comes as the Centre considers proposals from the states on continuing the restrictions beyond April 14, when the nationwide 21-day lockdown is slated to end.
A Punjab government statement said the chief minister will convey the decision to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his conference with CMs on Saturday.
Punjab had clamped a state-wide curfew on March 23 to enforce the lockdown, imposed ahead of the nationwide restrictions announced by the prime minister.
The decision is being extended to prevent the community spread of the pandemic and to stop overcrowding at the mandis ahead of the wheat harvesting and procurement season, a statement said.
21 new coronavirus cases were reported in the state on Friday, pushing the total count to 151 with 11 deaths till the evening. About half of the new cases are from a single village.
Among the fresh cases, 11 were reported in Mohali district, followed by eight in Pathankot and one each in Sangrur and Jalandhar, a medical bulletin said.
Jawaharpur village in Mohali district accounted for 10 of the new cases, an official said. Out of total 48 cases in the district so far, the village reported 32 after extensive sampling.
At a media conference earlier in the day, the CM cited grim projections on the spread of the pandemic in the coming weeks.
Quoting what he said was a PGIMER study, the chief minister said 58 per cent of India's population could be infected in the coming months.
When Chandigarh's Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research said it was not aware of any such study, the CM's office named Dr Shankar Prinja, an additional professor at PGIMER's Department of Community Medicine & School of Public Health at the institute.
It said the assessment by the professor and his team used 'standard mathematical models with Punjab data provided to him'.
The state cabinet also decided to set up a 15-member multi-disciplinary task force to formulate an exit strategy for gradual relaxation of the lockdown and the curfew.
It approved the establishment of a high-powered committee to suggest a roadmap for the state's economic revival in the post-COVID-19 period.
Amarinder Singh will request former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to head it.
The state government will ask the Centre to establish an Advanced Centre of Virology in Punjab with an anticipated investment of Rs 500 crore, and offer free land for it.
Another task force will look into 'quick upgradation' of the state's health infrastructure to combat the current crisis, the government said.
The Odisha government had on Thursday announced an extension of the current lockdown till April 30, amid indications by some other states that they too wanted restrictions to continue.