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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday appealed to states to use lockdowns only as a weapon of last resort to contain surging infections, indicating that the central government will avoid a repeat of last year’s sweeping shutdowns that caused lasting economic damage and millions of job losses.

In a late evening address, Modi said states should instead use micro-containment zones to control the explosive rise in infections.

Modi’s address comes amid acute shortages of oxygen, vaccines, medicines, testing kits and hospital beds across the country because of a record increase in daily infections.

The infection numbers have surged as people let their guards down, participating in political rallies and religious functions, some of which had the sanction of the government.

India’s covid-19 case additions have doubled in just 11 days. On 20 April, India reported 273,000 fresh cases, compared to 131,000 cases on 9 April. The numbers are even more staggering, considering that in February, India had reported fewer than 10,000 cases a day. Since 15 April, the country has clocked over new 200,000 cases every day.

While several states are running short of medicines and oxygen, the Prime Minister said that the government is working with speed and sensitivity to meet the increasing demand for oxygen in the various parts of the country.

“Centre, state governments and the private sector are trying that every needy person gets oxygen. Efforts to increase oxygen production and supply are on at various levels. Measures like installing new oxygen plants, providing one lakh new cylinders, diverting oxygen from the industrial use, Oxygen Rail are being undertaken," said Modi.

Modi said that Indian scientists brought covid-19 vaccines in a very short time, and the country has the cheapest vaccine in the world.

“India has embarked upon the world’s largest vaccination drive with two ‘made in India’ vaccines. From the very first phase of the vaccination drive, it has been emphasized that the vaccine reaches the maximum areas and to the people who need it," the Prime Minister said.

Modi also urged the state governments to convince migrant workers to stay wherever they are. “This confidence-building by the states will greatly help the workers and labourers, and they will get the vaccine wherever they are, and their work will also not suffer," Modi said, adding that the country now has more knowledge and resources to meet the health crisis than during the first wave of covid-19.

The Prime Minister called upon the youth to help in maintaining covid-appropriate behaviour in their areas and neighbourhood. “This will help in avoiding containment zones, curfews or lockdowns. Children should also create an atmosphere where their family members avoid going out unnecessarily," said Modi.

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