New Delhi, Apr 19: All adults will be eligible for COVID vaccination from May while private hospitals and states will be able to buy doses directly from manufacturers, the Centre announced on Monday as India grappled to rein in the surging coronavirus infections that crossed 1.50 crore, prompting the reimposition of stricter curbs in many parts, including a six-day lockdown in the national capital.
The decisions aimed at scaling up inoculation came as 25 lakh cases were added in just 15 days in the country and several states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab and Rajasthan demanded that the age restriction of 45 years be removed for the vaccination.
Under the third phase of the vaccination drive commencing next month, the vaccine manufacturers would be free to supply 50 percent doses to state governments and in the open market for which they will have to make an advance declaration of the price before May 1, according to an official statement.
"The private vaccination providers would need to transparently declare their self-set vaccination price and the eligibility through this channel would be opened up to all adults, that is everyone above the age of 18," the statement added.
Vaccination will continue as before in the government of India vaccination centres free of cost to the eligible population -- healthcare and frontline workers and all people above 45 years of age.
Active cases surpassed the 19-lakh mark in the country, while the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases mounted to 1,50,61,919 with a record single-day rise of 2,73,810 coronavirus infections, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday.
The death toll increased to 1,78,769 with a record 1,619 daily new fatalities, the data updated at 8 AM showed.
The Union Health Ministry said the important decisions for liberalising the vaccination drive including allowing all above 18 years of age to take the jabs were taken in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called the vaccine as the biggest weapon in the fight against COVID-19 and urged doctors to encourage more patients to get the jabs.
Prime Minister Modi has also called a meeting with vaccine manufacturers on Tuesday, sources said.
At a virtual interaction with the country's leading doctors on the pandemic situation, he noted that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in tier-2 and tier-3 cities this time, and asked them to connect with their colleagues working there and give them online consultations to ensure that all protocols are followed correctly.
The central government has recently taken many important decisions related to the supply of essential medicines, injections and sufficient availability of oxygen, he said, adding that states have been given necessary guidelines about these.
Amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases across the country, some chief ministers have complained of a shortage of essentials like oxygen supply and medicines like Remdesivir and sought the Centre's intervention.
Top medical experts in the government said oxygen demand is higher in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the first, while the ventilator requirement is lower.
According to data of hospitalised patients during the first and second wave, the requirement of oxygen is in the second wave at 54.5 percent as compared to the first wave at 41.1 percent, while the demand for mechanical ventilation in the second wave at 27.8 percent in comparison to the first at 37.3 percent.
The experts also said over 70 percent of the patients in both waves have been above 40 years and there is no major difference in deaths among hospitalised patients in the two waves.
NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said in the first wave 31 percent of patients were aged less than 30 years and this time it was up to 32 percent.
Oxygen continues to remain an important tool in the management of COVID-19 disease, ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said, and stressed on its rationalised utilisation.
The Centre had on Sunday banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes except in nine specified industries in view of the shortage of the essential public health commodity in several states.
Union Fertiliser Minister D V Sadananda Gowda on Monday urged urea manufacturers to set up medical oxygen plants at their premises to ramp up the supply of the gas amid surging cases of COVID-19 in the country. Several steel-makers are already diverting oxygen to hospitals.
The Centre has also directed the state to observe zero tolerance for hoarders of food, medicines and other essential commodities during the current crisis. States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have invoked the stringent National Security Act against violators.
Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan are among the 10 states/UTs that account for 78.58 percent of the new COVID-19 cases reported in a day.
Besides these four, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Kerala, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir are displaying an upward trajectory in daily new cases.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a six-day lockdown in the national capital from 10 PM on Monday till 5 am on April 26, saying it was necessary to deal with the rising number of COVID-19 cases as the city's health system was stretched to its limit.
The announcement, which came at the end of a weekend curfew, bought back the memories of last year's lockdown and triggered similar responses from people -- migrant workers rushing to railway stations and bus terminals in a bid to return home, residents flocking to markets to stock up on essentials, and tipplers joining in long, serpentine queues outside liquor stores.
I have full faith that this short period of lockdown would not be extended. We might not have to extend it. Trust me that if we fight this together, we would be able to overcome this," Kejriwal said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is also expected to decide on a strict lockdown in the next two days as the present restrictions are not yielding the desired results to curb COVID-19, state minister Vijay Wadettiwar said, adding the state government will study the lockdown imposed by the Delhi government before taking any decision.
Authorities have already imposed lockdown-like curbs on public movement and non-essential activities, which came into force on April 14 night and will remain till 7 AM on May 1 in the worst COVID-19-hit state.
The Punjab government also announced stricter curbs, including the extension of night curfew by an hour and closure of bars, cinema halls, gyms, spas, coaching centres and sports complexes in the state till April 30.
Lockdown-like restrictions under the ''Jan Anushasan Pakhwada'' (public discipline fortnight) began in Rajasthan on Monday and will remain in force till May 3 after a record daily spike in cases. The state had earlier announced night curfew and weekend lockdown.
"We are in a dangerous situation and everyone must follow the guidelines and adopt COVID appropriate behaviour," Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said.
The state on Monday recorded 11,967 fresh COVID-19 cases, its biggest one-day spike in infections.
In the Northeast, the Manipur government has decided to impose a night curfew in the state from 7 PM to 5 AM.
The Meghalaya government announced a series of measures, including banning the entry of tourists from other states and reducing attendance at offices to 50 percent.
The courts are also witnessing a slew of litigation on the COVID situation. On Monday, the Allahabad High Court directed the Uttar Pradesh government to impose a week-long lockdown in Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur Nagar, Varanasi and Gorakhpur.
Reacting to the order, the UP government, however, said there will be no "complete lockdown" in the cities for now.
A two-judge bench comprising justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar passed the lockdown order on a Public Interest Litigation on the condition of quarantine centres in the state and treatment of coronavirus patients.
"We are of the considered view that in given scenario of present time if people are restrained from going outside their homes for a week in the first instance, the current chain of spread of COVID infection can be broken and this will also give some respite to the frontline medical and health workers." the bench observed.
The COVID-19 death toll in Uttar Pradesh rose by 167, the highest daily rise so far, to reach 9,997 while 28,287 fresh cases pushed the tally of infection in the state to 8,79,831.
The Delhi High Court directed the Centre and AAP government to file affidavits by Tuesday disclosing hospital-wise availability of beds. Taking stock of the current pandemic situation, the high court asked the Central government to look into the aspect of shortage of oxygen supply in Delhi hospitals on an urgent basis.
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court said the distribution of Remdesivir injections has to be on the basis of need and asked the Centre and the Maharashtra government to apprise it by April 21 the parameters followed while allocating the drug to different states and districts.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court issued notices to the Union and MP governments on a petition seeking direction to "prosecute and punish" the persons responsible for the coronavirus spread in the central Indian state.