As more states went for lockdown-like restrictions to battle the raging second COVID-19 wave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday stressed that use of lockdown should be the ''last resort'' and that the focus should rather be on micro-containment zones.
Modi's remarks in his address to the nation where he also said the second wave has become a major crisis 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.
''In the current situation, we need to save our country from a lockdown. I would also request states to use the lockdown as the last resort. We have to do our best to avoid a lockdown and our focus should rather be on micro-containment zones,'' he said.
''If we all follow COVID-19 protocols, there'll be no need to impose lockdowns,'' Modi added, as he urged the people to reduce their movement and take vaccination.
The prime minister said the country is again faced with a big battle against COVID-19 and that conditions will improve with the decisions taken in the recent days.
Modi said 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.
''I want to thank our doctors and all our healthcare workers for working non-stop in this fight against COVID-19 pandemic.'' Modi noted that the pharma sector was working relentlessly to meet all COVID-19 challenges, including on vaccine development and supply.
The prime minister said the shortage of oxygen cylinders has come across as a major problem and said all stakeholders were working collectively to meet this challenge.
The Centre also stressed that the next three weeks will be critical for the country reeling from the worst health crisis as it announced a series of measures to shore up medical infrastructure and supplies including increasing the availability of oxygen and scale up vaccination in the country.
After Delhi, Jharkhand declared a one-week lockdown from April 22, while Maharashtra, where there are already several curbs, indicated a similar step soon. Telangana announced night curfew while Uttar Pradesh ordered a weekend lockdown.
Prime Minister Modi also 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.
He also assured all possible support and smooth approval process for the vaccine candidates which are currently under trial phase. The health infrastructure of our private sector has played a big role in the country's fight against COVID-19, he said.
Restrictions like night curfew have already been imposed in Uttar Pradesh and several other states including Punjab, Rajasthan, Kerala, Odisha, parts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, there was no sign of the COVID wave ebbing as several states like Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala recorded the highest daily rise on Tuesday.
Registering a steady increase for the 41st day in a row, the active cases increased to 20,31,977, comprising 13.26 percent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has dropped to 85.56 percent.
In the last 11 days, the daily count of cases has almost doubled from 1.31 lakh reported on April 9 to 2.73 lakh on April 20.
Expressing concern over the worrying scenario during a review meeting with Union Territories, Member (Health) NITI Aayog V K Paul pointed out the criticality of the next three weeks for the COVID response measures.
In Jharkhand, Chief Minister Hemant Soren announced the decision to enforce a lockdown from April 22 to April 29 and said the period will be observed as ''health safety week''.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the state cabinet favours a ''strict lockdown'' and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to make an announcement in this regard on Wednesday.
Maharashtra has been reporting over 50,000 coronavirus cases every day during the last two weeks but people are flouting the existing restrictions on movement and gatherings, the minister said.
The Telangana government announced a night curfew in the state between 9 PM and 5 AM till April 30, following a surge in coronavirus cases.
The restrictions will come into effect from April 20.
Rajasthan has imposed lockdown-like restrictions, called ''public discipline fortnight'', from Monday till May 3.
The Madhya Pradesh government has directed that only 10 percent of employees will attend office, except in units engaged in essential services like water and electricity supply, fire brigade, police, health etc, while the remaining employees will work from home.
In the private sector, this rule would apply to all establishments, except IT, mobile phone and BPO firms.
The Assam government ordered that all markets and shops will be shut by 6 PM. The government permitted 50 percent of “lower-level'' staff to work from home in the districts having active coronavirus cases of 100 or more. The orders will remain effective till April 30.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh asked defence public sector undertakings, DRDO and Ordnance Factory Board to work on a war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to state governments at the earliest to help them in dealing with the surging cases of COVID 19.
Officials said Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has already shared with private industry its oxygen generation technology which was developed for use on board Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, They also said work is going on to set up a 450-bed hospital in Lucknow, 750-bed hospital in Varanasi and 900-bed hospital in Ahmedabad.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the Centre to provide medical oxygen to Delhi, saying it was an “emergency” as some hospitals were going to run out of the critical item in a few hours.
''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.
In neighbouring Haryana, a massive surge of 73,000 new COVID-19 infections has been witnessed in less than three weeks, with Gurgaon, its worst-affected district, reporting more than 20,000 of these cases.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court said that economic interests cannot override human lives and suggested some reduction in steel and petroleum production to divert oxygen to COVID-19 patients.
''During lockdown, what would be the development,'' the court said and asked the Centre why it was waiting till April 22 to ban industrial use of oxygen.
The Gujarat High Court questioned the state government's claim that there were enough beds for COVID-19 patients and sought to know why infected persons were still unable to get admitted, if beds were vacant.