The prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday (April 20) advised states to ensure that lockdown is used only as a last resort. In his first address to the nation after the breakout of the second wave of coronavirus, he sought to strike a balance between the healthcare of individuals and the economic wellbeing of the nation.
Modi, in his brief 20-minute address, said that he was aware of hospitals nationwide facing oxygen shortage. He assured that necessary steps are being taken to augment the supply of the life-saving gas. The government is dealing with the situation “urgently” with required “sensitivity”, he said. Similarly, stocks of essential medicines are being sent to hospitals to aide the treatment of the deadly virus, Modi said.
He said he has taken a slew of decisions in the last few days, which should help in overcoming the crisis. The second wave of the epidemic has “struck us like a storm” and we are fighting a “huge battle”, Modi said. He was referring to the Centre’s decision to open up vaccination for all adults above the age of 18 from May 1 onwards and the Centre’s decision to allot 50 per cent of the vaccines to the states.
In an appeal he said, “I request the state governments to ensure that migrant workers stay wherever they are.” He said the states should ensure that they would get the required shots of vaccine and they won’t lose their jobs.
In an important clarification, Modi said, “The poor, lower middle class and those above 45 will continue to get free vaccine in government hospitals.”
He said Monday’s decision of opening up vaccination for those above 18 is to ensure that the young workforce stays safe and carries on with economic activities. “Our effort is to save lives while ensuring that economic activities do not come to a standstill,” Modi said. He said the decision of opening the vaccination for those over 18 years of age will help the workforce especially in the urban areas.
The prime minister began his speech thanking the health workers — doctors, nurses, ward boys, paramedics, ambulance drivers and other frontline workers such as policemen and hygiene workers. But he kept his speech restricted to the two themes — he is ensuring that supplies of essential medicines and health infrastructure are maintained, but won’t like any decision at this stage that may again upset the fragile economy. He, therefore, appealed to the state chief ministers to ensure that lockdown is used only as a last resort. “However they should carry out strict COVID measures in select ‘micro-containment zones’,” he advised. Remember, “we need to focus both on the health of the nation and that of the economy”, he said.
Modi said India was in a better situation in handling the epidemic as compared to the first phase that struck last year. “Earlier, we had no corona-specific medical infrastructure, we did not have labs for tests, there were no adequate PPE production, we didn’t know much about the treatment either,” he said. He said learning from the experiences of the past and the infrastructure so created, the medical professionals would be able to save as many lives as possible. “We have improved” in a short period of time, he said.
Modi also spared his thoughts for those who have fallen victim to the second wave. ”I share your pain and I am aware of the troubles faced by you,” he said. “It’s a big challenge and we need to face it together.”
Applauding the scientific community, he said they have managed to create two “indigenous vaccines” in a short period of time. He said 12 crore people, which is largely vulnerable population and frontline workers, are already inculcated. Indulging in self-patting, he said, “Remember, India has launched the world’s biggest inoculation programme.”
He lauded the effort of social organisations selflessly working to ensure steady supply of food and medicines to the needy. “I greet them all,” he said inviting youngsters to ensure that their parents and elders do not step out of the house unless it is necessary. “Why do we need lockdowns if people are careful,” he said appealing to the people to observe COVID-appropriate behaviour.
“We should not lose courage in difficult situations. Only correct decisions would lead us to success,” he said.