The government on Tuesday decided to open up Covid-19 vaccination for anybody above the age of 45 from April 1.

Briefing the media about the decision taken at the Cabinet meeting, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar urged all eligible beneficiaries to register for the vaccine shot, which would continue to be free at government facilities, and for Rs 250 per dose at private centres.

He also assured that vaccines would be available in sufficient quantities to cover all eligible people. The decision was taken on the day that marked the anniversary of the lockdown announced last year. 

The Cabinet nod came a day after the country notched up the record 32.54 lakh vaccinations to take the cumulative number to 4.85 crore. As compared to 3.71 lakh vaccinations per day in February, the vaccinations have been ramped up to 15.54 lakh per day in March.

It also came on a day Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow the State to vaccinate people younger than 60 years of age as the State has been witnessing a spurt in cases.

He also expressed concern over the fact that the State has been reporting a high frequency of more infectious UK variant in the State. According to him, 81 per cent of the latest 401 samples sent by Punjab for genome sequencing found to have the UK variant, which is seen to be more infectious than the country’s prevailing strains.

Punjab has been witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks. On Monday, 2,299 people in the State tested positive for Covid-19, the second-highest after Maharashtra.

Expressing concern over the emerging situation, the Punjab Chief Minister stressed the central government’s need to urgently open up the vaccination for a bigger section of the population. He said the process needs to be expedited, pointing to the fact that experts had found the existing Covishield vaccine to be equally effective against the UK variant – B.1.1.7. It was essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission, he added.

He also urged the people to strictly adhere to all Covid safety protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. The state government, which has already announced new restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if the people do not follow the appropriate Covid behaviour, he warned.

New guidelinesMeanwhile, the Home Ministry issued a new set of guidelines to the States and Union Territories as a resurgence in Covid-19 cases was seen in many states across the country. The Ministry’s fresh Stanard operating procedures asked the States to strictly follow-test-track-treat protocol, scale-up vaccination drive, and ensure all citizens adhere to Covid appropriate behaviour.

These guidelines that will be in force between April 1 and April 30 aim to regain the feats achieved in containing the spread of Covid-19, which was very much visible in the substantial decline in active cases continuously for five months. The Home Ministry asked the States and Union Territories to increase the share of RT-PCR tests in total testing to beyond 70 per cent, isolate and quarantine newly reported cases, provide timely treatment, and track all possible contacts of positive cases. It also asked the States to strictly demarcate containment zones and follow all procedures laid down by the Health Ministry in allowing activities in these red zones.