New Delhi:
India launched COVID-19 vaccination for all people aged 45 years and above from Thursday, which reported this year's highest single day rise of 72,330 new infections in a span of 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally of cases to 1,22,21,665.

Seeking to exponentially expand the countrywide anti-coronavirus inoculation drive, the Centre has decided to keep all public and private sector COVID-19 vaccination centres (CVCs) operational throughout April, including on gazetted holidays.

The Union health ministry has written to all states and union territories on Thursday and asked them to make necessary arrangements for this to optimally utilise all vaccination centres across the public and private sectors to ensure rapid increase in the pace and coverage of COVID inoculation.

''This decision is in line with the graded and pro-active approach employed by the government of India along with the states and union territories for COVID-19 vaccination,'' the health ministry said.

More than 6.5 crore vaccine doses have been administered across the country so far to frontline workers, healthcare workers, those above 60 and for people aged above 45 with specified co-co-morbid conditions.

The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated and vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started from February 2.

The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for those over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions. The ministry said so far vaccine doses have been administered to 82,60,293 HCWs (first dose), 52,50,704 HCWs (second dose), 91,74,171 FLWs (first dose) and 39,45,796 FLWs (second dose).

Besides, 3,05,12,070 and 1,20,346 beneficiaries more than 60 years old have been administered the first and second dose respectively, while 78,36,667 and 17,849 individuals aged 45 to 69 with specific co-morbidities have taken the first and second dose respectively so far, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, experts have recommended speeding up the inoculation drive by scaling up capacity with collaboration with private providers to contain the rapidly increasing second wave.

On Tuesday, the government had said India is facing an increasingly severe and intensive situation in some districts but the entire country is potentially at risk.

''All efforts to contain the virus and save lives should be taken,'' Dr VK Paul, Member NITI Aayog (Health) had said. ''The private sector needs to come forward and participate in the vaccination drive. We were told there are 20,000 private vaccination centres in the country. But less than 6,000 vaccination centres are being run by the private sector in India. We request the private sector to make the remaining vaccination centres functional and increase their number,'' he had said.

According to the health ministry, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh continue to show a steep rise in the COVID daily new cases accounting for 84.61 per cent of the new cases reported in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 39,544. It is followed by Chhattisgarh with 4,563 while Karnataka reported 4,225 new cases. India's active caseload has reached 5,84,055 and now comprises 4.78 per cent of the country's total infections. A net rise of 31,489 cases has been recorded in the total active caseload in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Punjab cumulatively account for 78.9 per cent of the total active cases in the country. Maharashtra alone accounts for more than 61 per cent of the active caseload of the country.

The Centre has been advising the states and union territories to increase the proportion of RT-PCR tests to more than 70 per cent of the total tests.

India's cumulative recoveries stand at 1,14,74,683 with 40,382 recoveries being registered in a span of 24 hours.

A total of 459 deaths were reported in a day, the highest so far this year.

Six states account for 83.01 per cent of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (227). Punjab follows with 55 daily deaths, the ministry said.