Covid-19 in India: Hard lockdown ruled out, PM Modi says focus on testing
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday effectively ruled out the imposition of another hard national lockdown, defended his government’s approach to vaccination, and repeatedly and, at length, emphasised the importance of testing, tracing, and Covid-safe behaviour, which, he pointed out, helped India get the better of the first wave of Covid-19 infections in the country, and at a time when it was not even certain that a vaccine would be discovered to prevent the illness.
Modi’s comments came at an emergency meeting with all chief ministers, during which he asked for 100% testing in containment zones and the tracing of at least 30 contacts within 72 hours to ensure symptomatic patients can be tracked quickly and further spread of disease can be prevented.
With many states imposing partial lockdowns, there were fears in some quarters of a national lockdown, which would have hit a recovering economy hard, and the Prime Minister virtually ruled out the imposition of one.
He also asked chief ministers to launch a special vaccination campaign from April 11-14 (meant to coincide with the birth anniversaries of Jyotirao Phule and BR Ambedkar) focused on zero wastage of doses.
In the meeting, many CMs demanded more vaccines and suggested inoculation of younger people.
The PM maintained that the Centre needs to prioritise vaccines depending on affected areas and suggested the states to reduce wastage of doses for better vaccination management.
The Centre can’t just focus on one area, he said; it has to look at every one. He also added that work is on to enhance vaccine capacity.
“Factories do not come up overnight,” he said.
But time and again, the PM returned to testing.
“Don’t take testing lightly. We must talk more about testing than vaccines and maximum emphasis has to be on testing. We must contain the human source of Covid and everyone must be tested in the containment zones,” Modi told the CMs and quipped that during the second wave, “we forgot testing and shifted (focus) to vaccines”.
The PM prescribed that tests must be increased to achieve less than 5% positivity rates.
The focus should be on reducing the case fatality rate, Modi said. Government officials have repeatedly pointed out that this is the government’s primary focus, and explained that it is the driving idea behind the prioritisation of vaccines.
In the meeting, some states raised the issue of shortage of vaccines, but the Union health ministry pointed out that vaccines are not given for an extended period such as a month but for a maximum of 7-8 days.
The states were also told that there is no shortage and replenishments will arrive every three or four days.
Modi observed that in some states, the administration too is showing signs of weariness, even as people have become casual about following Covid-19-safe behaviour.
“People have become casual and in most states the administration can be seen as weary,” the PM said, asking states to focus on the creation of well-defined micro-containment zones and renaming night curfews as corona curfews.
Referring to criticism of the government’s management of the vaccine drive, the PM said he has been avoiding politicising the issue.
“Those who want to do politics can continue to do so, but all of us must come together to prevail over the disease,” he said. Over the past two days, largely over the supply of vaccines, there have been sharp exchanges between the Centre and the states.
On Thursday, Modi seemed to want to put an end to that and said no government should be held guilty for high number of cases.
“Don’t think you have done wrong. If testing leads to more positive numbers, let it be. Our target has to be 70% RT-PCR tests,” he said, referring to the gold standard Covid-19 test. He also expressed concern and said he had heard that in many places, sampling was not being done properly.
“If you don’t take samples properly, there will be wrong reports. If a person is detected positive, there will be treatment. Otherwise, the person will go undetected.”
Asking for more speed in contact tracing to ensure no one remains untested, Modi called upon the young people of India to become role models of Covid appropriate behaviour.
He also asked them to get involved in the vaccine drive by ensuring everyone eligible (all people over the age of 45 years) are vaccinated, especially in areas of high disease incidence.
“We must also remember that after getting a vaccine, people should still be careful. From Day 1, I have insisted on dawai bhi, kadai bhi (we must take the inoculation and remain vigilant),” he said.
The PM also asked states to involve governors and suggested that both the CM and the governor can address all elected representatives and reach out to social influencers such as religious leaders, artists, writers and civil society to build awareness of Covid-19-appropriate behaviour.