Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation on Tuesday, urged state governments to assure migrants workers to "remain where they are and get vaccinated". He also stated that lockdowns should only be considered as a last resort and lauded the Centre's vaccination drive.
The prime minister's address came just hours after his meeting with vaccine manufacturers, in which he urged them to continuously scale up their production capacity to inoculate all Indians in the shortest possible time.
"I request state governments to urge the migrant workers to stay where they are and that they will be vaccinated in the city where they are," Modi said. "This trust given by the states to the workers will help them," Modi said.
With stricter restrictions in place to contain the spread of coronavirus in several states, migrant workers , fearing that a total lockdown may be clamped in a repeat of 2020, have already begun leaving for their home states. In Delhi, thousands of migrant workers gathered at Anand Vihar ISBT to catch a bus home, even as Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to them not to leave Delhi
Meanwhile in Punjab, industries have been sounding the alarm about an "exodus", with some businessmen claiming they have started heading back to their states. In Tamil Nadu, guest workers across various sectors fearing a further increase in infections and a lockdown have started leaving for their home states.
"The country is again fighting a very big battle against coronavirus," Modi said. "Things had stabilised a few weeks ago and then the second wave of coronavirus came like a storm."
The prime minister said India is facing the second wave of COVID-19, said he understood the pain that people are going through and expressed his sympathies to the families who have lost their loved ones due to the coronavirus.
"The challenge is big but we have to overcome it with our resolve, courage and preparation," Modi added.
On Tuesday, India registered 2.59 lakh fresh COVID-19 cases, pushing its overall tally to 1,53,21,089. Maharashtra reported the highest daily new cases at 58,924 followed by Uttar Pradesh with 28,211 and Delhi, which reported 23,686 new cases. Maharashtra also witnessed the maximum casualties (351), with Delhi in second place with 240 daily deaths.
Modi, speaking on demand for oxygen, said the Centre, state governments and private sector were trying to make it available to all those in need. "Many steps are being taken in this direction," Modi said.
Kejriwal earlier Tuesday appealed to the Centre to provide oxygen supply to Delhi on an urgent basis, claiming there is a serious oxygen crisis in the National Capital and some hospitals are left with just a few hours of oxygen. Kejriwal also wrote to Union Minister of Commerce and Industries Piyush Goyal, seeking his intervention in the matter.
"Serious oxygen crisis persists in Delhi. I again urge the Centre to urgently provide oxygen to Delhi. Some hospitals are left with just a few hours of oxygen," the chief minister tweeted. The Delhi government had on Monday set up a 24-member committee to ensure "rational" use of oxygen for treatment of COVID-19 patients
On Sunday, Kejriwal had termed the shortage of oxygen for coronavirus patients an "emergency".
Modi also urged states to consider using lockdowns only as a last resort and instead focus on creating 'micro-containment zones'.
Delhi had on on Monday announced a six-day lockdown in the National Capital, saying that the city's healthcare system has been stretched to its limits to the growing burden of coronavirus cases. The Telangana government on Tuesday announced a night curfew in the state between 9 pm and 5 am till 30 April, following a surge in coronavirus cases. The restrictions will come into effect from 20 April.
Meanwhile, in Uttar Pradesh, the state government announced a weekend curfew from Friday (23 April) evening to Monday (26 April) morning in the entire state till further notice just hours after the Supreme Court stayed an Allahabad High Court order imposing lockdown in five cities in Uttar Pradesh.
Speaking on the Centre's vaccination programme, Modi said efforts are on to "save lives as well as safeguard livelihoods."
"Opening vaccination programme to people above 18 years will help in providing vaccines to urban workforce," Modi added.
The Centre on Monday announced a slew of changes to India's vaccination policy, including opening the vaccination for everyone over the age of 18 and allowing state governments to procure the vaccines directly from the manufacturers from 1 May.
The prime minister also offered praise for doctors, nursing staff, paramedics, sanitation workers and policemen. "You worked selflessly during the first wave, and are again doing the same today," Modi said.
With inputs from PTI