Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday interacted with chief ministers of states across India, underscoring the enormity of the the upcoming vaccination exercise, which he described as the world's biggest, against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country.
The COVID-19 vaccination exercise will begin from January 16, and Prime Minister Modi said that over 30 crore citizens will get the jabs in the next few months in India against the 2.5 crore-odd people who have been vaccinated so far in over 50 countries in around a month.
Here are highlights from the Prime Minister's interaction with the chief ministers, at the meeting held over video conference to discuss the COVID-19 situation and the vaccination roll-out:
'Vaccinate frontline workers first, no shortcut for politicians'
Prime Minister Modi announced on Monday that the central government will bear the expenses of vaccinating nearly three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first round and suggested that public representatives, a reference to politicians, should not be part of this initial exercise.
Noting that the first round of vaccination is meant for healthcare and frontline workers, he said, "This is my personal suggestion and no one should take it otherwise. We public representatives are not part of it."
Modi said India's vast experience with vaccination will prove handy in this endeavour and asserted that the priority list has been decided as per the advice of experts and scientific community after consultation with states.
Healthcare workers from both government and private sectors will be the first ones to receive the vaccine.
Along with them, sanitation workers, police and paramilitary personnel, home guards, disaster management volunteers and other jawans in civil defence and revenue officials associated with containment and surveillance will also receive the vaccine in the first phase. The total number of such personnel is around three crore, he said.
In some countries, including the US and Israel, leading public figures have taken the jabs while top functionaries in a few others have chosen to follow the standard protocol and wait for their turn.
'30 crore people to be vaccinated in next few months'
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said India has worked in an exemplary manner to showcase federalism in the fight against the pandemic and proper dialogue between Centre and states played a major role in it.
Speaking at an interaction with chief ministers on vaccination rollout, the Prime Minister said 30 crore people will be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the next few months.
He said quick decisions were taken with full sensitivity and, as a result, COVID-19 has not spread in India on the scale on which it spread in some other parts of the world.
"The proper dialogue between Centre and States has played a major role in combating COVID-19. In the fight against the COVID-19, we have worked in an exemplary manner to showcase federalism. I'm satisfied that we worked together by standing united in COVID crisis, quick decisions were taken with full sensitivity," the Prime Minister said.
He said India will start the world's largest vaccination programme from January 16 and two Made in India vaccines have been given emergency use approval.
'Made-in-India vaccines most cost-effective in entire world'
The two already approved made-in-India COVID-19 vaccines are more cost-effective than any other in the world and have been developed as per the country's needs, he said.
Besides the two vaccines -- Covishield developed by Oxford and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, four others are in the pipeline, Modi said, asserting that India's fight against the pandemic will enter a decisive stage with the vaccination roll-out.
More vaccines may be available when the exercise moves into the second round, he added.
Covaxin efficacy row
The prime minister also sought to dispel concerns expressed by some opposition leaders and experts over the approval given to Covaxin without the availability of efficacy data, asserting that scientists have taken all precautions to provide citizens with effective vaccines.
The prime minister said he has been maintaining from the beginning that the scientific community will have the final word on the issue.
India's drug regulator has given nod to Covishield and Covaxin for the emergency use authorisation.
It is a matter of pride that both the vaccines are 'made in India', he said, adding that it can be imagined how much hardship India would have faced if it had to depend on foreign vaccines.
At least seven other vaccines are being developed in India, while some others can be imported from abroad, including the one developed by global pharma giant Pfizer which has already applied for import and sale in India of its vaccine for emergency use authorisation.
'India's COVID-19 situation better than many other nations'
Talking about the COVID-19 situation in India, Modi said the country is in a much better place than many others in terms of the pandemic's spread, and added that this is a matter of happiness but should not induce carelessness.
The panic visible among the people six-eight months back is no longer there, and the increasing confidence among them in the fight against the pandemic has had a positive impact on economic activities as well, the prime minister said.
Modi also asked states to ensure that rumours do not get spread about the vaccination exercise and suggested involving social and religious groups in helping check any rumour-mongering.
India's total active caseload has fallen to 2.25 lakh, which accounts for just 2.13 per cent of the total number of coronavirus cases in the country at over 1.04 crore, according to the latest Health Ministry data. More than 1.5 lakh have died so far.
However, the spread of the virus has lessened in a big way in the country as the daily number of new cases has dropped to about 16,000 from a peak of almost 98,000 in September last year.
However, the overall caseload for India is the second-highest in the world after the US, which has reported more than 2 crore cases so far -- almost double of India's cumulative tally.
In terms of deaths also, the US has recorded the most at nearly 3.7 lakh, followed by over 2 lakh in Brazil and about 1.5 lakh in India.
However, India tops the global charts for recovery with more than 1 crore having recuperated after contracting the deadly virus.
With the outbreak of bird flu in several parts of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asked all state governments to remain alert and ensure that local administration keeps a constant vigil near places like water bodies, zoos and poultry farms.
Modi said that the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying has put in place a plan to tackle the problem in which district magistrates will have a key role.
"I request that chief ministers of all affected states, through the medium of chief secretaries, should guide the district magistrates. The states where bird flu has not been found, there also the governments should be vigilant," he said at a virtual meeting with chief ministers held to discuss the COVID-19 situation and the vaccination roll-out in the country.
"All states and local administrations should keep a constant vigil near water bodies, zoos, poultry markets, poultry farms, etc so that information about illness among birds is received on priority," he said.
The situation can be better assessed by timely sending samples to laboratories for testing of bird flu, he said, adding with this even local administration will be able to act fast.
He expressed hope that through proper coordination between Forest, Health and Animal Husbandry Departments, "we will be able to overcome this challenge soon".
(With inputs from agencies)
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