Kolkata, India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Monday that the Indian government will administer free Covid-19 immunizations to all adults, as the capital New Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai relaxed lockdowns due to declining infection levels.
“Finally you’ve listened to us, Hon’ble Prime Minister. And emerged a stronger man,” staunch Modi-critic, and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra wrote on Twitter, with a thank you.
Universal free vaccination for all.
Finally you’ve listened to us, Hon’ble Prime Minister. And emerged a stronger man.
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) June 7, 2021
In April and May, the country of 1.3 billion people was hit by a large coronavirus outbreak that resulted in record-breaking infections and deaths, making it the second worst-affected country behind the United States, with just under 29 million cases.
Movement and activity limitations were enforced by authorities in Delhi and Mumbai, as well as other cities and states.
From May, the national government expanded its immunization campaign for over-45s to include everyone over the age of 18, but state governments and private hospitals were responsible for procuring and paying for vaccinations for those under 45.
“All those above 18 people will get free vaccinations,” the Indian leader said in a live televised address, announcing the start of the program on June 21.
Modi said the vaccination rollout would be “taken back by the central government”, following claims from states that there were insufficient shots.
The national government will purchase 75% of all vaccines developed in India under the new policy, with private institutions free to purchase 25%.
Modi went on to say that with other vaccines in advanced trial phases in India, supplies would soon grow.
To date, the country has given out slightly under 233 million vaccination injections, but experts say the program needs to be greatly expanded to better prevent the virus’s spread.
‘Welcome to the first step’
The Prime Minister’s declaration came after Delhi and Mumbai removed some of their lockdown restrictions, although citizens were advised to be wary about the disease.
In Delhi, some businesses and malls reopened, and the city’s metro services were at half-capacity. The roads immediately became congested, but the local shopping centers remained quiet.
During its peak, the northern city reported an average of 25,000 daily cases. Officials said that the number of infections had dropped to 231 on Monday.
Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi Chief Minister, recently declared that city authorities would make door-to-door visits to enroll the over-45s in vaccines.
Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state, whose capital is Mumbai, has relaxed limits based on infection rates and hospital bed occupancy.
On Sunday, there were just 794 new infections in Mumbai, where the caseload had risen to 11,163 in early April.
Malls in the city were reopened with restrictions, while other cities with lower infection rates, such as Nagpur and Aurangabad, were completely functioning.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Rajendra Kalkar of Phoenix Mills, which manages three shopping centers in Maharashtra.
“Businesses at our malls are coming back slowly.”
While the crisis has subsided in Delhi, Mumbai, and other big cities, experts warn that the disease continues to spread in rural regions and in the southern and northeastern regions.
They also stated that the death toll, which generally follows infection figures by several weeks, was still high.
“Currently, the states with high test-positivity rates like Kerala and Tamil Nadu need to maintain the restrictions as any major easing can be risky,” community health expert Rajib Dasgupta told AFP.
After many days of 400,000-plus cases in May, India announced just over 100,000 new illnesses and nearly 2,500 deaths on Monday.
Although experts caution that the true toll might be significantly higher, and there have been suspicions of undercounting, the health ministry claimed total deaths were just under 347,000 thus far.