India opens up lagging vaccine drive for all over 45s 

New Delhi, India: In an effort to boost the vaccination drive, India accounted Tuesday it will open the vaccination opportunity for people over the age of 45, a move that comes on the heels of a nationwide surge in new coronavirus cases. 

Vaccinating 50 million people so far, India has one of the world's highest virus caseload, second only to the US. Despite the aggressive vaccination drive, experts say India, a nation of over a billion people is lagging in its own target to innoculate 200 million by June. 

Until now only "frontline" workers in healthcare and other areas, together with people over 60 and those over 45 with co-morbidities, have been eligible for either the AstraZeneca vaccine or a homegrown Bharat Biotech shot.

"Following scientific and (Covid19) task force advice, the cabinet today decided to open vaccinations for everyone over 45 years from April 1," Prakash Javadekar, information, and broadcast minister, told reporters.

The broadcast minister also said that the state governments have been ordered to ensure the second dose of the vaccine is provided in four to eight weeks of the first dose, which was earlier four to six weeks. 

Experts say that many people are reluctant to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons including safety concerns and apathy about the pandemic after a sharp fall in infections since September.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was vaccinated on March 1, has issued several appeals in recent days asking "all those who are eligible to take the vaccine."

"Together, let us make India Covid-19 free!" he said on Twitter earlier this month.

Moreover, India's telecom operators, under the orders of the governments have been playing a vaccine-positive message in the caller tunes for its hundreds of millions of users. 

The number of infections has been rising again in recent weeks, and several regions have been reimposing restrictions on gatherings and activity.

A particular hotspot in the western state of Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai has introduced compulsory on-the-spot coronavirus tests in crowded areas.

Just recently, Maharashtra CM Udbhav Thackery expressed concerns over the rising number of infection in the state, and his health minister said there could be lockdown-like restrictions imposed in condition worsens. 

Several states have been holding huge political rallies ahead of upcoming elections while massive crowds have been thronging religious festivals, mostly without masks or distancing.

This includes the Kumbh Mela in the northern holy city of Haridwar which one day earlier this month attracted more than three million pilgrims.

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