Chandigarh, Aug 21 (PTI) Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday ordered that restrictions under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which bars assembly of more than four people, be imposed in the state amid rising COVID-19 cases.

Marriage and 'bhog' ceremonies have been exempt from the prohibitory orders, the chief minister said, warning of strict action against the organisers who defy the norms.

The fresh restrictions came just a day after he announced a set of lockdown restrictions in the state till August 31 amid rising cases of the novel coronavirus.

The Punjab government had on Thursday announced a weekend lockdown in all 167 cities and towns in the state and extended the night curfew period by two hours.

He warned of even more stringent measures after August 31, if needed, to check the spread of COVID-19 and save the lives of the people of Punjab.

He appealed to all political parties to avoid any gatherings, including protests.

In case of any violation of the Section 144, the organisers who are putting people at risk by organising such gatherings or allowing people to gather without masks, will be arrested, he said, according to an official statement.

The chief minister also requested all religious and community leaders to ask their followers to take all restrictions/precautions as imposed and not to violate the prohibitory orders.

He also directed the police to strictly enforce prescribed number and social distancing at marriage and bhog ceremonies.

The COVID-19 tally had gone up to 37,824 in Punjab on account of increased testing, the statement quoted the chief minister as saying.

As many as 20,290 samples were tested on Thursday and the reports of 1,741 of them were found positive -– a positivity rate of 8.5 per cent, according to the statement.

The average daily increase for the last seven days was 1,400 plus, he pointed out, adding that 37 people had died on Thursday, taking the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 957 and mortality rate to 2.5 per cent.

"There were, as of yesterday, 349 patients on oxygen and 39 on ventilator, which was a cause for concern," the chief minister said, adding that the maximum number of cases last week were reported from Ludhiana, Patiala, Jalandhar, Mohali & Bathinda.

As per the directions which came into effect from Friday, night curfew will be from 7 pm till 5 am instead of the earlier 9 pm to 5 am duration in all cities and towns.

The statistics paint a gloomy picture, Singh said on Friday during an edition of his "Facebook Live #AskCaptain", warning that if people do not take necessary precautions, things will only get worse.

"Unfortunately, people were now taking things lightly, forcing the government to take harsh measures, some of which were announced yesterday," he said, adding that 3000-6000 cases of people being challaned for not wearing masks on a daily basis.

"Why don't we understand that the precautions are necessary for saving your lives and those of other Punjabis?," Singh said, urging people to pay heed to his repeated appeals.

Noting that the state was headed towards a peak, he said by September 3, the cases in Punjab are projected to go up to 64000, and cross the one lakh-mark by September 15.

Deaths will also increase, with experts estimating over 1500 deaths by September 3, he warned, hoping that the people will listen to him and take due precautions. "We don't have to let Punjab go the America way," he added.

Stressing that testing and timely treatment was the key, he said it was important to report to hospitals within 72 hours of onset of symptoms. There was no stigma attached to it, he said, adding he had also got himself tested twice for COVID-19.

In response to a question from a Ludhiana resident seeking clarification on rumours in his village of the state government getting Rs 3 lakh from the Centre for every COVID-19 patient, the chief minister categorically denied receiving any money from the central government for the fight against the pandemic.

"This information is wrong, not a single rupee has been received," he said, adding that his government had repeatedly, in fact, written to the Centre for financial support to fight COVID-19.