With Covid active cases already over 2,300 within a fortnight, the Himachal Pradesh government has decided to close all schools and educational institutions till August 22.
The schools were opened only on August 2 but with a sudden surge in Covid cases, including those reported among the children, the government has taken a quick call to shut down the educational institutions except residential schools which have been told to strictly enforce SoPs.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the cabinet called by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur late Tuesday evening to take stock of the situation in the state.
With 419 fresh cases, Himachal Pradesh reported the highest single-day spike in positive cases, taking the active caseload to 2,318 –much higher than 500 in mid-July. There have been 16 deaths in this month itself, raising the total death toll to 3,521 in the state.
In the State assembly currently in session, the opposition Congress also voiced fears about the possibility of a third wave as figures showed an increasing trend after July 22, 2021.
"We have taken this decision as a precautionary step due to fears of the third wave and reports that a lot of students coming to the schools have got infected. If the school remains open for more time, it will be a bad situation as data presented by the health department suggests," state Education Minister Govind Thakur said .
The cabinet also decided to enforce the restrictions more effectively in the state, particularly among those coming to the state from other places.
Himachal Pradesh is facing a massive surge of pilgrims coming to the temples and shrines in the state especially from Punjab, Haryana and UP. All those coming to the state will be required to bring a negative RTPCR report or proof of having taken two doses of vaccination.
On Monday hundreds of pilgrims coming to Naina Devi temple, Chinpurni, Jawalamukhi and Kangra temples were stopped at the borders as none of them was carrying proof of vaccination or negative Covid reports.
The Punjab government had to intervene and set up a special facility at the borders for the pilgrims to conduct tests.
The government has also decided to restrict occupancy to 50 per cent in all public transport, including inter-state and intra-state.
“The 50 per cent occupancy rule will come into effect from August 13,” said a government official.
Himachal, Punjab are among five states that have logged an R number more than 1.
“We are concerned over the surge in Covid cases and as such we have decided to impose stricter restrictions,” said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur.
The government had earlier issued an advisory, urging tourists and pilgrims to enter Himachal only if they are carrying a negative RT-PCR report not older than 72 hours or the two-dose Covid vaccine certificate. Now the cabinet has taken a decision to impose these restrictions very strictly, he said.
Himachal Pradesh and Punjab currently top the rate of Covid-19 transmission in India with the highest virus reproductive value of 1.3 each which indicates rising infection trends and disease resurgence.
Himachal and Punjab have R-factor at 1.3 each while Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are at 1.1 each. Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Nagaland are at 1 each, reports from the Union Health ministry said.