9 lakh SOS calls, messages in 25 days: COVID keeps Punjab helplines buzzing 24×7

Written by Sofi Ahsan | Chandigarh | Published: April 15, 2020 12:25:04 am Since the beginning of the crisis, the authorities have been shuffling teams between the helpline numbers depending upon the traffic. (Express File) A lockdown also...

9 lakh SOS calls, messages in 25 days: COVID keeps Punjab helplines buzzing 24×7
Written by Sofi Ahsan | Chandigarh | Published: April 15, 2020 12:25:04 am
coronavirus, coronavirus in punjab, coronavirus cases in Punjab, coronavirus positive in punjab, coronavirus news, indian express news Since the beginning of the crisis, the authorities have been shuffling teams between the helpline numbers depending upon the traffic. (Express File)

A lockdown also means buzzing helplines. Over the last 25 days since March 20, authorities in Punjab have received over 9 lakh SOS messages — phone calls, distress communication in text – on three different helpline numbers 112, 104 and 108.

Out of these, total 4,73,530 calls were received on Health Department helplines — 104 and 108 — till April 13 beginning March 23, when curfew was imposed in Punjab. On 112 police helpline, 4,97,043 communications were received from March 20 till April 13.

While majority of these 9,70,573 calls related directly to corona crisis and health emergencies, at least 39,849 pertained to crimes against women. A significant number were also about food and grocery requirements.

“The traffic in the initial days of lockdown was very high. It was touching almost 70-80,000 calls per day. The volume now is a bit low on 104 and 108 helplines. It has reduced to half on them, but 112 continues to record a high volume. This is because112 is kind of SOS for everything,” said IAS officer Amit Talwar, who has been made incharge of the helpline numbers in the state control room for COVID-19, said. According to data gathered by the government, 75 per cent of these calls were attended.

Read| Punjab upgrades its app, will now use colour codes to identify COVID-19 patients

Since the beginning of the crisis, the authorities have been shuffling teams between the helpline numbers depending upon the traffic.

While some of the operations have been now outsourced to call centres offering pro bono services, the Punjab government has initiated a process to engage a full-fledged call centre exclusively for requirements of essential goods.

People reach out on police helpline

Helpline number 112 is for people in any kind of distress. The total calls, text communications received on this number till April 13 were 4,97,043 and out of them 4,52,833 (91 per cent) were attended. Also, 54.6 per cent of the communications were corona-related, 8.8 per cent were of crimes against women, 5.9 per cent calls were self-declarations by NRIs, while 30.8 per cent have been categorised as miscellaneous, as per the police department data.

“The 112 helpline initially was working with some 30 counters and then they increased to 52. There is an addition of outside call centres too, about 20 of them. Some have offered pro bono,” said Talwar.

Health Dept helplines

Since March 23, the authorities have received over 7,000 calls each day for ambulance related services. A total of 2,32,445 calls were received till April 13 on the 108 helpline and 1,41,805 (61 per cent) could be attended. Over 66 per cent of the calls attended each day required action, as per the Health Department data.

There is another helpline too — 104 — for health-related services. Here, as per the Health Department, 2,41,084 calls were received till April 13. However, only 1,25,736 calls (52 per cent) were received and only 1-2 per cent of the calls required action, meaning they were referred to the Rapid Response Team for corona suspected cases. Punjab also has a dedicated telemedicine helpline with more than 2,200 volunteer doctors — it has received 1,980 calls in the corresponding period.

According to Talwar, like 112, 104 helpline too has now been “stabilised with 42-45 counters each”.
Calls for food requirements

With many of the food-requirement related calls being taken up on 112 state helpline, the government’s Department of Governance Reforms is about to give green signal to a firm for initiating a 100-seater call centre for handling requirements of essential services. According to the bid documents seen by The Indian Express, the citizens after calling on a dedicated number for essential services will receive a SMS for further reference and updates.

“This has been done in the past few days only. We want to reduce the burden on other helpline numbers. The bidding process is complete and the call centre will come up in Mohali,” said an official, privy to the developments related to the new facility.

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