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New Delhi/Mumbai: As COVID-19 cases in India hit a record high lending urgency to scale up vaccination, the Centre on Wednesday allowed the jabs at workplaces with about 100 eligible beneficiaries from April 11 and rejected as baseless allegations of shortage of the injection by Maharashtra and some other non-BJP ruled states.

The central government also wrote to Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi governments flagging below-par inoculation of eligible beneficiaries, including healthcare workers, after they demanded that vaccination be opened to all.

India recorded 1,12,389 new cases on Wednesday, according to a PTI tally, taking the overall count to 1,29,14,174. The single-day rise in coronavirus cases breached the one-lakh mark for the third time in four days. India saw a record daily rise on Tuesday, with over 1.15 lakh new infections.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that many inoculation centres are being shut due to the shortage of vaccines in the state, the worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the country, and they have 14 lakh doses which would last just three days.

“We need 40 lakh vaccine doses every week. We can then administer six lakh doses every day in a week. The doses we are getting are not enough,” he said, adding the Centre should ensure that those in the 20-40 age group are vaccinated on priority.

The Odisha government said it has vaccines for another three days and that it had written to the central government on Tuesday urging it to provide 15 to 20 lakh doses of the ‘Covishield’ vaccine to continue the inoculation drive smoothly.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also batted for the COVID-19 vaccine for all, saying every Indian “deserves the chance to a safe life”. Similar demands for relaxing the age restriction have been made by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

However, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan alleged that the states were trying to cover their “failures” and spread panic among the people by demanding vaccination for all without first inoculating enough of the eligible beneficiaries.

People above the age of 45 are currently eligible for vaccination.

Vardhan also said the allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless and the states, including Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, need to improve the implementation of their testing and containment strategies and vaccination drive.

He said the “lackadaisical” attitude of the Maharashtra government has “singularly bogged down” the entire country’s efforts to fight the virus.

Maharashtra recorded the highest daily count of 59,907 cases and 322 deaths on Wednesday.

“The inability of the Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless,” Vardhan said.
Union Minister

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to the state chief secretaries that COVID-19 vaccination sessions may be organised at workplaces, both public and private, which are having about 100 eligible and willing beneficiaries by tagging these workplaces with an existing COVID vaccination centre to increase access to vaccine.

“Such workplace vaccination centres may be launched across states/Union territories from April 11, 2021,” he said.

In a letter to the principal secretaries of Punjab, Delhi and Maharashtra, Additional Health Secretary Manohar Agnani noted that the performance of these states and UT have been below the national average and needs improvement.

Earlier, Vardhan pointed out that Maharashtra has vaccinated only 86 percent of health workers with the first dose, while the equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72 percent and 64 percent. He said 10 Indian states/UTs have done more than 90 percent.

Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also slammed the state governments for playing propaganda politics to distract attention from their failures.

The Union Health Ministry said India has surpassed the US to become the fastest COVID-19 vaccinating country in the world with an average daily rate of 30,93,861 vaccine doses.

According to Home Ministry data updated on Wednesday morning, case the tally was 1,28,01,785 while the death toll increased to 1,66,177 with 630 new fatalities.

Registering a steady increase for the 28th day in a row, the active cases increased to 8,43,473 comprising 6.59 percent of the total infections, while the recovery rate further dropped to 92.11 percent, it said.

The active caseload was at its lowest at 1,35,926 on February 12 comprising 1.25 percent of the total infections.

The Centre has been urging the states to speed up vaccination and ensure strict compliance of COVID-appropriate behaviour and restrictions to check the alarming surge. Experts have opined that these steps are key to staving off the infection chain.

Eight states including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have shown a rise in the COVID daily new cases accounting for 80.70 percent of the new cases reported in a day.

Fifty high-level central teams have been rushed to Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh to assist the states in COVID control and management measures. These teams will be stationed in the states for 3-5 days.

Experts say there could be various factors at play — immune escape variants that are not detected by antibodies, laxity due to less fear of COVID-19 infection and a largely susceptible population.

“Most importantly, the pace of vaccination is not as fast as one would expect India to be in. The pace at which the vulnerable have to be covered is not satisfactory,” Dr Giridhara R Babu, Professor and Head, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India, said

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