The Centre on Tuesday (April 6) ruled out any near possibility of extending COVID-19 vaccination to all age groups, even as it admitted that the second wave of the pandemic in India is worse than the first.
Stressing that the government will prioritise vulnerable groups first when it comes to vaccination, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhusan said the “aim is never to vaccinate whoever wants it, but always whoever needs it”.
“When we talk about opening vaccination to all, our focus reduces on controlling the pandemic. Did you hear any country that is vaccinating those younger than 45,” VK Paul, member of Niti Aayog said at the daily press briefing of the Health Ministry on Tuesday.
Many including Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal as well as the Indian Medical Association, have urged the government to open vaccination for all ages.
Expressing concern over the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Punjab, which have logged in the highest number of cases and deaths in the country, the Centre on Tuesday asked respective governments to ramp up RT-PCR tests.
According to Bhushan, 58 per cent of active cases and 34 per cent of deaths were reported from Maharashtra, which has prompted the Centre to ask them to conduct more RT-PCR tests, after realising that only 60 per cent of such tests were conducted in the state last week.
The Union Health Ministry, which confirmed that the second wave in India is worse than the first with COVID-19 cases spiking at a higher rate, has recommended that Maharashtra should at least test 70 per cent of the total samples.
“Only 60 per cent of total tests were done through RT-PCR method in Maharashtra last week. We suggest states to take it to 70 per cent or above,” Bhusan said at a press briefing. The announcement came in the wake of India registering over one lakh cases in a day for the first time on Monday—the highest since the pandemic started last year.
VK Paul, NITI Aayog member echoed the health secretary’s concerns at a press conference. “The impact of the pandemic has increased in the country. Warnings were given that the situation should not be taken for granted,” he said, confirming that the situation is worse than the first wave due to the speed at which the coronavirus was spreading.
According to health ministry officials, the deteriorating situation in Chhattisgarh too was causing “concern”. “Chhattisgarh is a cause of concern for us. Despite being a small state, it reports 6 per cent of total COVID-19 cases and 3 per cent of total deaths in the country. Chhattisgarh’s condition has deteriorated in the second wave of infections,” revealed Bhushan.
In Punjab, around 4.5 per cent of deaths due to the virus were reported but they were satisfied that the RT_PCR tests had increased to 76 per cent in that state.
Compared to Punjab, active cases and death toll were very low in Delhi and Haryana.
However, taking into account large gatherings at restaurants and clubs at night, the Delhi government has imposed a night curfew from 10 pm to 5 am till April 30.
On Monday, India had reported 96,982 fresh coronavirus cases and 446 related deaths, out of which, 47,288 cases were reported in Maharashtra. The country’s cumulative count shot up to 1,26,86,049, while the death toll stands at 1,65,547.
India’s vaccination drive too is being ramped up as over 43 lakh people were inoculated on Monday, pushing the vaccination count up to 8,31,10,926. The Central government has also asked all its employees who were 45 years and above to vaccinate themselves.
Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan will hold a meeting with health ministers of 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) to take stock of the situation, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet chief ministers on Thursday to review the COVID-19 situation in the country