PM Modi at Covid review meet: Keep focus on test and trace, let’s not jump the gun on vaccines

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a virtual meeting with Chief Ministers during a Covid-19 review meeting. (Source: Narendra Modi/ YouTube)

EMPHASISING THAT vaccination is a long-term and continuous strategy in the fight against the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday directed all states to immediately focus on aggressive testing and micro-containment to break the chain of transmission of the second Covid wave.

The Prime Minister also appealed to states to achieve 100 per cent vaccination of the 45-plus population in high-focus districts and called for a “vaccination utsav” between the birth anniversaries of icons Jyotiba Phule (April 11) and B R Ambedkar (April 14).

“What we have done is that we jumped to vaccination (as a strategy) and have forgotten testing. As the vaccines are being produced, they will be delivered…earlier, we won the fight without the vaccine. We won the fight when we didn’t even know if there would be vaccines. Today, we don’t need to create a panic in the public,” the Prime Minister said during his online interaction with Chief Ministers.

“From Day 1, I am seeing politics. I don’t open my mouth. I believe we have to serve the citizens. We have been given the responsibility. Those who are doing politics will do it. I will not comment. However, all of us should come forward to change the situation. We have to follow ‘dawai bhi-kadai bhi’ (cure and caution)… We have to focus on testing… Vaccination is a long-term and continuous process,” Modi said.

The meeting took place amid a heated face-off between the Centre and non-BJP-ruled states over the availability of vaccine doses. On Wednesday, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan singled out mostly non-BJP-ruled states, specifically Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, and accused them of “politicising” a public health issue and “spreading lies”, and not doing enough in terms of testing, contact tracing and ramping up infrastructure.

During Thursday’s meeting, sources told The Indian Express, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray sought Modi’s intervention in “restraining” political parties from making the pandemic a political tool to target state governments.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked the Centre to review its policy so that all adults get vaccinated “as early as possible” while pointing out that the surge in India is mainly due to the UK variant and the youth have been hit hard.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel asked the Centre to provide adequate supplies of Remdesivir and oxygen cylinders, set up four virology labs, a 1,000-bed ICU infrastructure and ramp up vaccine supply. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had accused the Centre of not providing enough vaccine doses for her state which is in the middle of an election, did not attend the meeting.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, reiterated the vaccination strategy based on prioritisation of vulnerable populations. “In a single day, we have achieved vaccinating 40 lakh persons…The most resourceful countries also have set criteria for vaccination. We are not different from them. We are working towards achieving maximum manufacturing capacity. We have discussed vaccine development, vaccine stock, and wastage. You know about the quantity of vaccines that is manufactured; these factories are not established overnight. Whatever is available to us, we have to prioritise,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister also stressed that doses are being supplied while keeping all states in mind. “To keep all the stock in one particular state is not the right thinking. We have to keep the entire country in mind and manage it. Also, an important aspect of Covid-19 management is vaccine wastage…it is my request to states to attempt 100 percent coverage of everyone above the age 45 years in the high focus districts,” he said.

It was in this context that the Prime Minister suggested a “vaccination utsav”. “We should run a special drive to vaccinate the maximum eligible beneficiaries and achieve zero wastage. If required, we can also increase the vaccination centres. I have also told the Centre to send as many doses as it is possible,” he said.

On demands for the youth to be vaccinated, Modi said: “…we want to strengthen the youth through vaccination, however, we should encourage them to follow protocols.”

According to sources, Thackeray said at the meeting that the state has been following all the directives and instructions given by the Central Government on containing the pandemic. “Despite this, some political parties are now contemplating on launching an agitation against the state government,” Thackeray said, without naming any party although the BJP in Maharashtra has been highly critical of state government’s handling of the pandemic.

He also asked the Prime Minister to intervene and “ask them to behave”, sources said. “Thackeray said the Prime Minister should restrain the parties. In his reply, the Prime Minister also said he has also faced baseless criticism for the handling of the situation despite the effective measures introduced by the Centre,” sources said.

During the meeting, Modi told the states to focus on testing. “We have to bring down the positivity rate under 5 per cent and our target is to achieve 70 per cent RT PCR testing… We have to focus on aggressive testing in containment zones. Not a single person should be left out of testing in these zones,” he said, adding that the “perimeter of containment zones should be well defined” not “vague”.

The Prime Minister also told the states to compile data on mortality to “know at what stage the patients are getting hospitalised” and suggested that the states should hold webinars with all elected representatives to implement actionable plans.

On Thursday, meanwhile, a day after Harsh Vardhan’s remarks, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope alleged bias and claimed that his state has received a disproportionate number of doses compared to BJP-ruled states.

Harsh Vardhan posted on Twitter before the Prime Minister’s meeting: “Let’s put an end to fear mongering now! #COVID19Vaccine doses: Total administered: 9 cr+; In stock/nearing delivery to states: 4.3 cr+. Where does question of shortages arise? We’re continuously monitoring & enhancing supply.”

The Health Minister tweeted: “Hue & cry by certain States about partisanship by the Union Govt is just a farce, an attempt to hide their own incompetence. Maharashtra and Rajasthan are 2 of the top 3 States based on allocation of #COVID19Vaccine doses. Both are non-BJP governed States.”

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