Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Tuesday said that a dry run will be conducted across Maharashtra on January 8 to check the preparedness of the mechanism rolled out for the vaccination exercise.
While addressing reporters, Tope also said that the Maharashtra government will seek some clarifications from the Centre on the two COVID-19 vaccines approved for the restricted emergency use before launching a mass inoculation drive in the state.
On the availability of COVID-19 vaccine, Tope said the Centre might inform the state government in the next 10 days about the largescale availability of the dosages.
He said cold storage facilities and supply chains are being set up in Maharashtra, which he said is ready to launch the mass vaccination.
"There are some clarifications we are seeking from the Centre about the approved vaccines, as they have been cleared for use citing the emergency situation. Maharashtra will raise its concerns about the vaccines during national video conference with Union health minister scheduled on January 7," Tope said.
A dry run to assess the readiness of the mechanism laid out for the COVID-19 immunisation drive, which is expected to begin soon, was conducted in four districts of Maharashtra on Saturday.
"Maharashtra will join the nationwide dry run on January 8 which will be conducted in every district of the state. The mock drill will be helpful for the state to see whether the system developed for mass vaccination is working properly on not," Tope said.
On Sunday, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.
Commenting on the cost of a vaccine, Tope said that the Centre should provide a vaccine free to those living under below the poverty line.
"Two doses (of a vaccine) will cost Rs 500 as every person needs to take two doses. However, I am of the opinion that the Centre should bear the cost of purchasing vaccines and supplying them to Maharashtra".
He said that poor people can still find it difficult to pay Rs 500 for a vaccine. "As the Centre has already stopped the supply of masks, ventilators and RT-PCR kits, the Maharashtra government is procuring these items by spending from the state exchequer. The state cannot ignore its duty when the help from the Centre is shrinking," Tope said.
The state health minister also expressed his concerns over the possibility of resumption of flights between India and the UK, where a new strain of coronavirus has emerged. India had suspended all passenger flights connecting the two countries from December 23 to January 7.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri recently said flights from India to UK will resume from January 6, while services from that country to New Delhi would resume from January 8 onwards.
"It (resumption of flights between India and the UK) is a matter of concern for us. We have traced 95 per cent of the passengers landed in Mumbai between November 25 and December 21. The tracing is going on for the rest of them. If more passengers start coming, we will have to increase the screening and testing facilities," Tope said, adding that eight returnees have been found infected with the UK variant of coronavirus so far in Maharashtra.
He said the passengers coming from these flights will have to strictly follow the quarantine protocol put in place by the Maharashtra government.
"Between November 25 and December 21, some 4,000-5,000 passengers arrived at the Mumbai international airport. We screened them, put them in institutional quarantine and treatment was initiated. Out of them, 68 swabs tested positive for coronavirus. These samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune to identify the UK variant. Eight samples were found to be carrying the mutated UK variant," he said.
Tope said all these coronavirus positive patients are stable and lodged in institutional quarantine.
"I think the centre will inform the state in the next 10 days about the large scale availability of the dosages. The data of 7,90,000 health workers in Maharashtra, including those employed in government and private sectors, is already uploaded on CO-WIN application developed for the mass vaccination," he said. The Centre and Maharashtra governments have already decided to administer vaccines free to health workers and frontline workers in the first phase.
(Inputs from PTI)