Meanwhile, the doubling time of COVID-19 cases in India has decreased from 504.4 days on 1 March to 202.3 days on 23 March, the health ministry said, highlighting that six states have reported a surge in daily new cases

With several states across India experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Centre on Tuesday announced that it will kick off the third phase of the countrywide vaccination programme from 1 April.

Now, those above the age of 45 will be eligible to receive the shots.

The decision was relayed to the media by Union minister Prakash Javadekar at a press briefing on Union Cabinet’s meeting. The minister said that even those without comorbidities above the age of 45 can get vaccinated.

The announcement also comes in the backdrop of six states — Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu — reporting a surge in daily new cases.

Meanwhile, the doubling time of COVID-19 cases in India has decreased from 504.4 days on 1 March to 202.3 days on 23 March, the health ministry said on Tuesday, highlighting that six states have reported a surge in daily new cases and together account for 80.90 percent of the new infections reported in a day.

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country, the Centre has asked all states and Union territories to increase RT-PCR tests, strictly enforce test-track-treat protocol and speed up the pace of vaccination to cover all priority groups.

Issuing fresh guidelines for April, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said keeping in view the fresh surge in COVID-19 cases, the new positive cases, detected as a result of intensive testing, need to be isolated or quarantined at the earliest and provided timely treatment.

On the other hand, several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, taking note of the sudden spurt in cases have announced restrictions or total ban in celebrations of the upcoming Holi festival.

India on Tuesday recorded 40,715 new coronavirus cases taking the nationwide infection tally to 1.16 crore and the virus has so far claimed 1,60,166 lives.

All above age 45 can get COVID-19 vaccine from 1 April

The government Tuesday announced that from April 1, all people above 45 years of age will be eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines and requested them to get registered for the inoculation. Briefing reporters on the decisions taken by the Cabinet after its meeting, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said now even people without comorbidities who are more than 45 years of age can get vaccinated.

He requested people entitled to get themselves registered to take the jabs.

He said the Cabinet also decided that the second dose of the vaccine can be taken between four and eight weeks, on the advice of doctors. It was allowed to be taken between four to six weeks earlier, but scientists have now said that taking the second dose between four and eight weeks gives improved results.

The Union Cabinet discussed the vaccination drive which has already achieved speedy and good progress, Javadekar said.

“Today after discussion and on the advice of the task force and scientists, it was decided that from 1 April the vaccine will open for everybody above 45 years of age.

“We request that all eligible people should immediately register from 1 April and get vaccinated, as it is the shield against the disease,” Javadekar told reporters.

DGCA extends suspension of international flights till 30 April

The coronavirus -induced suspension of scheduled international passenger flights has been extended till 30 April, Indian aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Tuesday.

“However, international scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case-to-case basis,” the DGCA added.

Scheduled international passenger services have been suspended in India since 23 March, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But special international flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat Mission since May and under bilateral “air bubble” arrangements with selected countries since July.

India has formed air bubble pacts with 27 countries, including the US, the UK, the UAE, Kenya, Bhutan and France. Under an air bubble pact between two countries, special international flights can be operated by their airlines between their territories.

The DGCA circular also said that the suspension does not affect the operation of international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by it.

MHA issues fresh guidelines in wake of COVID-19 spike

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued fresh guidelines for effective control of COVID-19 , which will be effective from 1 April 2021, and remain in force up to 30 April, 2021.

Keeping in view a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases, which is being witnessed in some parts of the country, the guidelines mandate the State/ UT Governments to strictly enforce the Test- Track-Treat protocol in all parts of the country; ensure observance of COVID appropriate behaviour by everyone; and, to scale up the vaccination drive, to cover all the target groups.

The MHA said that there shall be no restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of persons and goods. However, it granted the state governments autonomy to impose local restrictions, at district/ sub-district and city/ ward level based on their assessment of the situation.

MHA Order by Manasi Chandu on Scribd

The home ministry said based on the positive cases and tracking of their contacts, containment zones shall be carefully demarcated by the district authorities at the micro-level taking into consideration the guidelines prescribed by the Union Health Ministry.

The states and Union territories where the proportion of RT-PCR tests is less should rapidly increase it to reach the prescribed level of 70 percent or more of total tests.

The authorities, based on their assessment of the situation, may impose local restrictions at district or sub-district and city or ward level, with a view to contain the spread of COVID-19 , the guidelines said.

The ministry said the government of India has launched the world’s largest vaccination drive against COVID-19 .

While the vaccination drive is proceeding smoothly, the pace is uneven across different states and union territories and, the slow pace of vaccination in some states and union territories is a “matter of concern”, it said.

The guidelines said that the vaccination against COVID-19 , in the present scenario, is critical to break the chain of transmission and hence all state and union territory governments should rapidly step up the pace of vaccination to cover all priority groups in an expeditious manner.

Over 3.25 million vaccine doses given on 22 March, says Centre

More than 32.53 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered on Monday, the highest single-day vaccination so far, taking the total number of people inoculated to over 4.8 crore, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

As on day 66 of the vaccination drive (22 March), more than 32 lakh (32,53,095) vaccine doses were administered.

Out of these, 29,03,030 beneficiaries were vaccinated across 48,345 sessions for the first dose and 3,50,065 healthcare workers (HCWs) and frontline workers (FLWs) received the second dose of vaccine.

The 29,03,030 beneficiaries include 21,31,012 people aged above 60 and 5,59,930 aged 45-60 with comorbidities who have received the first dose, according to the ministry.

According to a provisional report till Tuesday at 7 am, over 4.8 crore (4,84,94,594) vaccine doses have been administered through 7,84,612 sessions, the ministry said.

States impose restrictions, ban Holi celebrations

Uttar Pradesh

Ahead of the Holi and upcoming Panchayat elections, the Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday ordered testing of people coming from other states seeing a spurt in coronavirus cases.

UP Chief Secretary RK Tiwari issued the directive a day after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held a high-level meeting on the Covid situation in the state which on Monday had reported the coronavirus cases again crossing the 500-mark.

The fresh directive, while emphasising for strict implementation of the anti-COVID measures, also stipulated that no procession or public programmes would be allowed without prior administrative permission.

The government also declared Holi holidays in all schools up to Class 8 from 24 to 31 March.  In other educational institutions, barring medical and nursing colleges, the Holi holidays will start on 25 March, lasting up to 31 March.

These directives on Holi holidays, however, will not be valid for institutions holding various examinations. Chief Secretary Tiwari also directed the state administration to ensure that there is no crowding at public places and asked police to take all necessary measures for it.

Delhi

Amid a rise in coronavirus cases, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Tuesday ordered that there will be no public celebrations in the national capital during upcoming festivals such as Holi and Navaratri. Chief Secretary Vijay Dev directed authorities to ensure strict compliance with the order.

“All authorities concerned will ensure that public celebrations and gatherings, congregations during upcoming festivals like Holi, Shab-e-Barat, Navaratri etc shall not be allowed in public places/public grounds/public parks/markets/religious places etc in NCT of Delhi,” Dev said in the order.

Delhi reported 1,101 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest in over three months, while four people succumbed to the disease, the health department said. It is for the first time since 24 December that the city has recorded more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Mumbai

As novel coronavirus cases surge in the country, especially in Maharashtra, Mumbai’s civic body banned playing Holi in public and private spaces in order to curb virus spread in the city.

According to the guidelines, BMC has said that public Holi celebrations on March 28 and 29 will be cancelled to curb the spread of the virus in the city.

Mumbai and UP’s directives come in the backdrop of several other states banning or restricting Holi celebrations in order to contain the virus spread. The Chandigarh administration on Monday ordered a ban on festivities relating to Holi while on Sunday, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said the state government will only allow the ritual of Holika Dahan — lighting of Holi pyre — during the upcoming festival of Holi-Dhuleti in limited numbers and that no permission will be given for Holi celebration, like playing with colours.

Telangana shuts school, Tamil Nadu tells institutes to switch to online mode

All educational institutions in Telangana would be temporarily closed from Wednesday and offer online classes to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the wake of a spurt in fresh cases in recent days, including from some schools, the state government said.

Making a statement in the state Assembly, Education Minister Sabitha Indra Reddy said the closure order will be applicable to all government and private run educational institutions, hostels and gurukul institutions, barring medical colleges. Online classes shall continue for students, she said.

The minister said parents raised concerns over the spurt in the COVID-19 cases and sought temporary closure of educational institutions, which had reopened on February 1 after a gap of ten months.

This comes a day after the Tamil Nadu government on Monday asked higher education institutions to switch to online teaching and said semester exams will also be conducted on the virtual model.

A government order to this effect was issued after Chief Secretary Rajeev Ranjan held discussions with Vice-Chancellors, all of whom “opined that the classes can be conducted online.” The heads also said 70 to 80 percent syllabus has been covered, the GO said, adding that practical classes and examination for science students were going on.

With inputs from PTI

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