Though cases have come down sharply since a September peak, Paul said India was still vulnerable, especially given that even previously badly affected cities like Pune in Maharashtra were getting hit again. He urged people to wear masks and avoid social events – guidelines openly flouted by both federal and state ministers.

The northern state of Punjab, which has also seen a rise in cases, said indoor gatherings would be restricted to 100 and outdoor to 200 from March 1. District heads have also been permitted to decide on night curfews in hotspots, and testing will be increased, the state’s chief minister said. Punjab is one of the worst performing states in vaccinating their healthcare workers, according to the federal government.

The government on Tuesday asked five states, including Maharashtra and Punjab, to expedite vaccination of their healthcare and frontline workers in light of the surge in cases, according to letters shared by the health ministry.

India has given nearly 12 million doses to its health and frontline workers since beginning the campaign in mid-January, a pace that will have to be increased sharply to meet the target of reaching 300 million people by August. Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said India would very soon start immunising people over 50 and those with medical conditions, with greater involvement from private hospitals. Government hospitals are now running around 80% of vaccination sites.

The government has recently come under pressure to expand coverage at home given the world’s largest vaccine maker has exported COVID-19 shots to more than two dozen countries. India is using a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Other vaccines are in the queue, including Russia’s Sputnik V and products from Cadila Healthcare and Novavax.

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