India is again confronted with a big challenge as Covid-19 cases see a rapid surge, but efforts are on to ensure that economic activities and livelihood are not affected in the fight against the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday, underlining the steps India has taken over the past few weeks to bring down the spiralling infections.
Modi’s remarks in his address to the nation came on a day when India’s active COVID-19 cases crossed 20 lakh after 2,59,170 new coronavirus infections and a record 1,761 new fatalities.
He appealed to citizens to come forward and help those in need, asked migrant workers not to leave cities in view of temporary restrictions in place, and stressed that India’s scientific community had a better understanding of the disease this time around and was more equipped to fight the pandemic.
Modi said the people were undergoing suffering but “we need to fight it out with all our might" and expressed confidence that the coronavirus will be defeated with the combined efforts of the people.
Modi also asked people not to venture out and exercise extreme caution in these difficult times. “We have to save the country from lockdowns. I will appeal to states to consider lockdown as the last option and instead focus on micro-containment zones,” he said. “I urge the youth to help in ensuring that COVID norms are followed. I am sure if we work together we will not have to worry about setting up containment zones," he added.
“Our effort is to keep the disruption to a minimum…(on) both social and financial (fronts),” he said, a remark that comes at a time when several states are imposing local restrictions in view of the rising cases.
After Delhi, Jharkhand has declared a one-week lockdown from April 22, while Maharashtra, where there are already several curbs, indicated a similar step soon. Telangana and Karnataka has announced night curfews while Uttar Pradesh ordered a weekend lockdown. Restrictions like night curfews are also in place in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Kerala, Odisha, parts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
“I want to thank our doctors and all our healthcare workers for working non-stop in this fight against COVID-19 pandemic," he said. The prime minister said that the shortage of oxygen cylinders has come across as a major problem and said all stakeholders were working collectively to meet this challenge.
Hours after meeting vaccine-makers, he said the government’s move to allow vaccination for all adults from May 1 will help the working population who have to venture out.
He once again reminded the nation about his oft-repeated mantra ‘dawai bhi, kadaai bhi’ (yes to medicines and caution) and said it was required even after receiving the vaccine.
Earlier in the evening, Modi had an interaction with vaccine manufacturers from across the country via video conferencing during which he urged vaccine manufacturers to continuously scale up their production capacity to inoculate all Indians in the shortest possible time. Modi said the private sector will play an even more active role in the vaccination drive in the coming days and that this will require better coordination between hospitals and industry.
While top Union Ministers and senior BJP leaders hailed the PM’s address, opposition leaders lashed out at him saying he chose to relinquish his responsibilities and put the onus of saving India on NGOs, children and the youth.
Modi in his speech has emphasised on discipline and patience, senior BJP leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, adding that with the participation of public, the country will overcome this challenge. Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the PM assured the country that the government will improve the health of the economy of the country as well as that of its people. “These words of Modiji while making us aware of the tough battle that we have to fight together, have also reassured us that we are in this together. That we as a nation are doing whatever it takes to ensure #IndiaFightsCorona successfully," Shekhawat said in a series of tweets.
Calling the address “nothing but empty talk", Congress leader Ajay Maken said the prime minister has put the onus of doing whatever little possible on state governments and that also by practically advising them to not implement lockdown. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The crux of today’s lesson by Prime Minister at 8.45 PM is — nothing is in my hands. People should take care of their lives themselves." Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “Sub text of PM’s speech: Guys you are on kind of on your own." “If you are able to finally make it to the other side we will definitely meet again in some Utsav or Mahatsov. Until then all the best. May God be with you," Tewari said on Twitter.
The CPI(M) said it was an “admission of disaster" that last year’s lockdown had been and an attempt to shift the onus of dealing with the pandemic on state governments, while the TMC alleged that he was trying to “fool" people with words.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “He did not say a word on the super-spreader events that took place like the Kumbh Mela. He did not say how he was going to address the fact that India’s vaccination levels are the lowest in the world in terms of population."
TMC national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien said that the prime minister’s speech was just words and mere rhetoric. “Words words words. You lust for power and then fool people with just words. Enough. Where are the #vaccines," he asked in a tweet.