New Delhi (AFP)
India will launch one of the world’s most ambitious coronavirus vaccination campaigns next Saturday, aiming to reach 300 million people by July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced.
The vaccine must be free for the country’s population of 1.3 billion, and Modi said the start of Jan. 16 would be “a historic milestone” in the fight against the pandemic.
India is the second most affected country in the world – behind the United States – with more than 10 million cases, despite the death rate being one of the lowest in the world.
The first phase will target around 30 million healthcare workers and other frontline workers, including security forces and 270 million people over the age of 50 or most at risk from Covid-19.
The government has said it wants the first 300 million people to be inoculated by the end of July and has already organized mass trials at vaccination centers across the country.
About 150,000 employees in 700 districts have been trained and about 290,000 temperature-controlled supply points, 240 cold rooms, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice line refrigerators are ready for use.
The government has approved two vaccines – Covishield from AstraZeneca / University of Oxford and one produced by Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech.
The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII), claims to have manufactured around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca product and aims to increase production to 100 million doses per month by March.
But the Indian government has yet to finalize a purchase deal with Serum, amid reports of feuds with Serum over the price.
The number of new coronavirus cases reported every day has dropped significantly in recent weeks.
But the announcement of the vaccination campaign came after the Department of Health said the number of people testing positive for a virulent new strain of coronavirus found in Britain had risen to 90.
India only authorized flights from Britain on Friday after a 16-day suspension due to the new strain.
The Delhi regional government has ordered all UK passengers to undergo 14-day isolation, even if they test negative for Covid-19.
Authorities are still trying to track down thousands of passengers who arrived on flights from Britain before the suspension was ordered.
© 2021 AFP