Calling the second Covid wave a “toofan” (storm) that has swept the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation Tuesday evening, called on citizens not to lose heart in this adversity and underlined that all steps need to be taken to avoid a lockdown.
In his seventh such address since the first Covid outbreak early last year, and the first after the second wave that has escalated to unprecedented levels both in daily case and death counts, Modi said that the “right decisions in the right direction” would help secure victory against the virus.
Saying that the situation today was different from the first time around — there are vaccines, more medical insight into the virus and better infrastructure — the Prime Minister said that along with saving lives, the Government’s effort is to save economic activity and ensure that there is only a minimum impact on the livelihood of people. The Government is working with “speed and sensitivity” to meet the increasing demand of oxygen in various parts of the country, he said.
He prefaced his 19-minute address saying he felt the pain of those who had lost their loved ones and was grateful to the doctors, nurses, frontline Corona warriors, ambulance drivers, police and all those who had, once again, risked their lives to fight the pandemic.
But the strongest message was against a lockdown. “Aaj ki sthiti mein hamein desh ko lockdown se bachana hai. Main raajyon se bhi anurodh karunga ki vah lockdown ko antim vikalp ke roop mein hi istemaal karen. Lockdown se bachane ki bharpur koshish karni hai. Micro-containment zone par hi dhyan kendrit karna hai,” he said. (“In today’s circumstances, we have to save the country from a lockdown. I would also request the states to use lockdown only as the last resort. We have to do our best to avoid a lockdown. We have to focus on only micro-containment zones only”.)
“Hum apni arthavyavastha ki sehat bhi sudhaarenge aur deshavasiyon ke sehat ka bhi dhyan rakhenge (We will improve the health of our economy and take care of the health of our countrymen also),” he said.
The Prime Minister’s address came a day after the Government said it was opening up the Covid vaccination drive from May 1 to include all above the age of 18 — and soon after he had told vaccine manufacturers during a meeting Tuesday to “continuously scale up the production capacity to vaccinate our people in the shortest possible time”.
Earlier, Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech said it was expanding its manufacturing capacity to around 700 million doses annually. And US pharma major Johnson & Johnson said it has “submitted an application to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) requesting approval to conduct a bridging clinical study” of its single-dose vaccine candidate.
Reaching out to migrant workers, the Prime Minister said: “I urge the state administration to boost the confidence of workers and convince them to stay wherever they are. This confidence from the states will greatly help in convincing the workers and labourers that they will get the vaccine wherever they are in the next few days and their work will also not suffer.”
Modi’s appeal comes amid a fresh exodus of migrants after Delhi imposed a weeklong lockdown and Maharashtra enforced curfew-like conditions across the state.
Calling upon children to help in ensuring Covid-appropriate behaviour in their homes and neighbourhood, the Prime Minister invoked Ramnavami and Ramzan to urge people to follow “maryada” (proper behaviour) and “anushasan” (discipline).
On April 1, the daily national Covid count was 81,398, which surged to 2,75,063 cases on April 18. When the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 24 last year, the number of Covid cases in the country was just 550.
While announcing the lockdown in an address to the nation last year, the Prime Minister had justified the curbs with the slogan: “Jan hai to jahan hai.” In another address to the nation on April 14, 2020, Modi had said: “The country has benefited immensely from social distancing and lockdown. If you look at it only from the economic point of view, it seems expensive, a huge price has to be paid, but there can be no comparison with the lives of Indians.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Prime Minister assured vaccine makers of “all possible help and logistics support” from the Government and pointed out that the “process of vaccine approval is speedy and scientific”.
The meeting was attended by Adar Poonawala, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII); Dr Krishna Ella, chairman of Bharat Biotech; Dr Satish Reddy, chairman of Dr Reddy’s Lab; Sanjay Singh, CEO, Gennova Biopharma; Pankaj Patel, chairman, Zydus Cadila; and, Dr Mahima Datla, MD, Biological E.
The meeting came after the Union Finance Ministry relaxed rules to effectively enable the Union Health Ministry to make advance payments of Rs 3,000 crore to SII, which manufactures Covishield, and Rs 1,500 crore to Bharat Biotech for procuring vaccines.
On Tuesday, Poonawala thanked the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for the “decisive policy changes and swift financial aid which will help vaccine production and distribution in India”.