Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday cautioned states and Union Territories against any laxity in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and called for bringing down the positivity and fatality rates at a virtual meeting to review the status and preparedness of COVID-19 response, especially in eight states: Haryana, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and West Bengal.
The modalities of anti-coronavirus vaccine delivery, distribution and administration were also discussed during the meeting, as per a release.
Interacting with chief ministers, the prime minister called for more RT-PCR tests, even as he underlined that India's COVID-19 situation is more stable than other countries in terms of recovery and fatality rates.
Modi asked them to work towards bringing the positive rate to less than five percent and the fatality rate to under one percent and called for more RT-PCR tests.
"We need to speed up our efforts to reduce transmission of the virus. Testing, confirmation, contact tracing and data must be given top priority," he said.
A massive network of testing to treatment is running well in the entire country and it is being regularly widened, the prime minister added.
Modi also urged chief ministers to submit the chief ministers to share written their feedback in writing on COVID-19 strategy. The points raised by the chief ministers will help in drawing out a strategy as no one can impose their views on anyone else and everyone has to work together, he said.
Modi said the government is keeping a close watch on the development of vaccines and is in contact with Indian developers and manufacturers, along with global regulators, governments of other countries, multilateral institutions and international companies.
He added that it will be ensured that the vaccine for citizens will meet all necessary scientific criteria. He underlined that just like the focus in the fight against COVID-19 has been on saving each and every life, the priority will be to ensure that the vaccine reaches everyone.
According to the Hindustan Times, the prime minister asked the states and UTs to start working on cold storage facilities for a vaccine.
"Safety is as important as speed for us. Whichever vaccine India will give to its citizens will be safe on all scientific standards. Vaccine distribution strategy will be chalked out in collective coordination with states. States must also start working cold storage facilities," the report quoted him as saying.
The prime minister also asked states to set up task force/steering committees at district or block level to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine programme.
Modi said a special emphasis of the PM CARES fund has been to make available oxygen, while efforts are on to make medical colleges and district hospitals self-sufficient in terms of oxygen generation. He also informed the chief ministers that the process for establishing more than 160 new oxygen plants is underway.
The prime minister said there have been broadly four stages in terms of how the people have reacted to the pandemic. The first was of fear, when people reacted in panic, while the second stage saw cropping up of doubts about the virus, when several people tried to hide that they had been afflicted by it.
The third stage was of acceptance, when people became more serious about the virus and displayed greater alertness, while in the fourth stage, with increasing recovery rate, people have developed a false notion of security from the virus, thus leading to rise in instances of negligence, Modi said.
He emphasised that it is of utmost importance to increase awareness about the seriousness of the virus in this fourth stage.
He noted that the trend of increase in the spread of the pandemic in countries where its impact was earlier lessening, is being seen in some states as well, which necessitates greater alacrity and caution by the administration.
The meeting was also attended by Union home minister Amit Shah and health minister Harsh Vardhan, while the chief ministers who participated in the virtual interaction include Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal, Rajasthan's Ashok Gehlot, West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra's Uddhav Thackeray, Chhattisgarh's Bhupesh Baghel and Gujarat's Vijay Rupani.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the high severity of the third wave of coronavirus pandemic in the National Capital is due to many factors, pollution being an important one.
Kejriwal said that Delhi witnessed the peak of 8,600 COVID-19 cases on 10 November during the third wave and added thatthe daily cases and the positivity rate has seen a decline since then, reported news agency PTI quoting sources.
The chief minister hoped that the trend would continue in the National Capital.
"The high severity of the third wave is due to many factors. Pollution is an important factor. The chief minister sought the prime minister's intervention to get rid of the pollution caused by stubble-burning in adjoining states, especially in view of the recent bio-decomposer technique," a source said.
Kejriwal also sought the reservation of the additional 1,000 ICU beds in the central government-run hospitals in Delhi for coronavirus patients till the third wave of the infection lasts in the city, the source said.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said his government has increased testing and strengthened infrastructure to tackle the contagion.
Highlighting the steps taken by the state government to contain the infection, the chief minister spoke about the ban on firecrackers, law on wearing of masks, night curfew in worst-hit districts and the restrictions on gatherings, sources told news agency PTI.
The state government is testing over 30,000 samples a day, up from 18,000 tests a day in the months of September and October, Gehlot informed.
Gehlot also shared with the prime minister inputs about the strengthening of infrastructure like oxygen generation plants, increase in the number of ICUs and oxygen beds in hospitals, the sources added.
The COVID-19 situation in Gujarat is under control and enough number of beds are available for patients, said Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
Rupani also informed about various initiatives to curb the coronavirus transmission during a meeting of chief ministers of eight states, which have reported higher number of COVID-19 cases, addressed by the prime minister via video conferencing, an official release said.
Gujarat's COVID-19 caseload stood at 1,98,899 as on 23 November while the cumulative toll was 3,876, as per the state health department.
Rupani said the government has intensified testing to identify coronavirus positive patients and also imposed a night curfew in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara and Surat. The night curfew in the four cities will remain in effect until the situation comes under control, the release quoted the chief minister as saying.
In his presentation, Rupani said 45,000 or 82 percent of about 55,000 isolation beds available for COVID-19 patients in the state, are vacant, as per the release.
Among the fresh curbs imposed to contain the spread of the virus, the chief minister said only 100 guests are now allowed to attend a marriage function, while the number of attendees for funerals has been capped at 50.
For early detection of cases, both RT-PCR and antigen testing has been ramped up across the state, Rupani said, adding that around 70,000 tests were conducted on Monday. The capacity of laboratories to conduct RT-PCR tests has been increased three-fold to cover a large population, Rupani is quoted as telling the prime minister.
Rupani also apprised the prime minister about various other measures such as treatment of home isolated patients; deployment of Sanjeevani and Dhanvantri 'Raths' (vans) for conducting tests and providing treatment at doorstep, and deployment of additional doctors and surveillance teams, the release added.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sought to assure that the COVID-19 situation in West Bengal is being addressed aptly, an official told PTI.
"The chief minister briefed the prime minister that the COVID-19 situation in West Bengal is under control," the official told the news agency.
She apprised Modi about the discharge rate among the COVID-19 patients in the state and informed him that the number of new infections is on the decline, he said.
Banerjee is also learnt to have reminded Modi of the non-payment of Goods and Services Tax (GST) dues to several states, the official added.
According to an official statement, Banerjee also assured the prime minister that her government is fully prepared to work with the Centre and all other stakeholders for the speedy implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
"We are ready to work with the Centre and all other stakeholders for speedy and universal vaccination for everyone as soon as the vaccine is available," the statement quoted her as saying.
She said the entire nation is looking forward to an early vaccination programme, wherein the state government will join the Centre and all other stakeholders for a comprehensive battle against the pandemic.
West Bengal is fully prepared with trained human resources and required infrastructure (including cold chain) for the vaccination programme, Banerjee said as per the statement said.
The Maharashtra government has formed a task force to manage the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and how vaccination will be carried out in the state, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said.
"A task force has been set up to manage the distribution and vaccination in Maharashtra and the government is in constant touch with Adar Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India to track development of the coronavirus vaccine," the statement said quoting Thackeray.
Poonawalla is the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the Oxford vaccine for COVID-19 .
The Chief Ministers Office (CMO) later tweeted that Thackeray also informed Modi about various steps the Maharashtra government has taken to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.
Till Monday, Maharashtra reported 17,84,361 COVID-19 cases and 46,653 deaths due to the disease, as per the state health department.
Modi has held several rounds of virtual meetings with states over the coronavirus situation.
While the national daily COVID-19 case count has remained below 50,000 for some time, several urban centres have witnessed a surge, resulting in enforcement of several measures, including curfews in some cities.
India saw 37,975 new coronavirus infections being reported in a day taking the country's COVID-19 caseload to 91.77 lakh, while the recoveries crossed 86 lakh, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Tuesday.
With inputs from PTI