COVID-19 containment can derail if festivals are not celebrated following protocols, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya warned on Saturday and exhorted 19 States to escalate their inoculation pace so that India can achieve administering 100 crore vaccine doses in the next few days.
India has so far administered over 94 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Reviewing the progress of COVID-19 vaccination with principal secretaries and mission directors of the National Health Mission from all major States, Mr. Mandaviya underlined that administering 100 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine is the immediate milestone in India's inoculation journey.
According to a Health Ministry statement, Mr. Mandaviya noted that if festivals, synonymous with auspiciousness, joy and large gatherings, are not observed as per Covid protocols, containment of COVID-19 can get derailed.
"The two-pronged solution is to follow Covid protocols very strictly and to speed up vaccination," the minister said.
He cited results of experiments that pegged the number of first dose recipients not developing severe COVID-19 to be 96% and further pointed out that the number increases to nearly 98% for people who have taken both doses of the vaccine.
Officials of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal took part in the meeting.
Observing that over eight crore balance vaccine doses are physically available with States, Mr. Mandaviya enquired about specific hurdles, if any, faced by them in increasing their pace of vaccination and vaccine coverage among the target population, the statement said.
Many States are nearing saturation of coverage in urban areas and are catering to the floating population in the city, it said.
Labour and time-intensive door-to-door vaccination is being undertaken in some geographically aloof pockets where first dose coverage is nearing saturation. Uttar Pradesh State that comparatively limited supply of Covaxin and its shorter span between the doses as a rate inhibiting factor, according to the statement.
"In consultation with the states, the minister exhorted each state to increase their target so that the administration of the last six crore doses for reaching the mark of 100 crore is achieved in the next few days," the Health Ministry stated.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged all the State health administrators to be strict with observance of COVID-appropriate behaviour during festivities to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.
He underlined the need to adhere to a detailed standard operating procedure issued through a ministry's letter on September 21.
It included no mass-gatherings in containment zones and in districts with over 5% case positivity. Gatherings with advance permissions and limited people to be allowed in districts with a positivity rate of 5% and below. Relaxations and restrictions to be imposed based on weekly case positivity.
States should closely monitor case trajectories in all districts daily to identify any early warning signal to ensure the imposition of restrictions and adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour accordingly. All rituals like the burning of effigies, Durga Puja pandals, Dandia, Garbas and Chhatt Puja should be symbolic. The number of people allowed to participate in gatherings and processions should be regulated. Places of worship should have separate entry and exit points while the use of common prayer mats, offering of 'prasad', the sprinkling of holy water should be avoided.