Centre should give free vaccine to the poor, says Rajesh Tope

Supply chains, cold storage being readied; Maharashtra to conduct dry run on Jan. 8

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said on Tuesday that the State government would seek more clarification from the Centre on the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines approved for restricted emergency use before launching a mass inoculation drive. He also urged the Centre to provide vaccines free to those living below poverty line.

“We are seeking some clarifications from the Centre regarding the approved vaccines as they have been cleared for use citing the emergency pandemic situation. We will raise our concerns on the vaccines at a national video conference with Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on January 7,” said Mr. Tope, adding that the Centre might also inform the State government in the next few days about the availability of dosages.

He said that cold storage facilities and supply chains were being set up in Maharashtra and a dry run would be conducted on January 8 to check for preparedness.

“Maharashtra will join the nationwide dry run on January 8, which will be conducted in every district. This ‘mock drill’ will help determine the efficacy of the mass vaccination system,” Mr. Tope said.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Tope said that those living on the social margins would not be able to bear the cost of ₹500 for two doses of the vaccine and suggested that the Centre bear the cost of purchasing vaccines and supplying them in the State.

Mr. Tope said the Centre had already stopped the supply of masks, ventilators and RT-PCR kits, and the cost is now being borne by the State government.

Flights from U.K.

He also expressed concern over the possibility of resumption of flights between India and the United Kingdom from January 8, given the prevalence of the new strain of virus that has emerged there.

“The State authorities have traced 95% of the passengers who landed in Mumbai from the U.K. and Europe between November 25 and December 21. However, if more passengers start arriving, we will have to increase the screening and testing facilities,” Mr. Tope said.

On Monday, the State Health Department had announced that the samples of eight U.K. returnees from Maharashtra had tested positive for the new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has already urged the Centre to help quarantine passengers who were entering Maharashtra after landing at airports in other States.

Of the eight samples, five are from Mumbai, one from Pune and one each from Thane and Mira-Bhayander in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

Mr. Tope said all those who tested positive are stable and lodged in institutional quarantine.

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