Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday expressed concern over people crowding at hill stations and markets without wearing masks or observing social distancing norms, as he urged all to guard against complacency to prevent a third wave of the coronavirus spread.
He asked the people to shun the argument that they 'want to enjoy before the third wave of coronavirus' and stressed that there should be no compromise in following COVID-19 protocols.
"It is true that tourism, trade and business have been greatly affected due to the coronavirus. But today I will say with great emphasis that having huge crowds in hill stations, markets without masks and not following COVID protocols is a matter of concern and is not right," Modi said during an interaction with chief ministers of eight North-Eastern states through video conferencing.
The third wave can be prevented by remaining cautious and strictly following all protocols, he said and emphasised that the vaccination drive needs to be continuously ramped.
Modi said the COVID-19 situation was worrisome in some districts of the Northeastern region and urged the chief ministers to stay alert and act fast to check the further spread of the virus.
The health ministry has also flagged concerns over a surge in coronavirus cases in the Northeast states in the past few days and central teams have been deputed to seven states from that region -- Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura -- to support them in COVID-19 management.
The prime minister said stricter steps were needed at the micro-level to check the virus spread and called for greater emphasis on micro-containment zones.
During the interaction, the chief ministers discussed the issue of vaccine hesitancy and measures being taken to overcome it.
While Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Prime Minister Modi that his government is trying to increase the vaccination rate in the tea garden areas of the state, which have witnessed a spurt in COVID-19 cases, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu sought an increase in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines to the state.
The CMs gave an assurance of taking timely action to bring down the positivity rate as well as the number of cases in their respective states.
Prime Minister Modi will interact with the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Maharashtra and Kerala on July 16 to discuss the COVID-19 situation in these states.
These are among the states where the infection numbers have seen an increase in several districts or have not in general seen a dip, unlike most other states.
Noting the fast mutating nature of the coronavirus, Modi advised strict monitoring of the changes and keeping track of all variants.
Experts are studying the mutations and their impact and in such a scenario, prevention and treatment are critical, he said.
Modi emphasised that the utility of physical distancing, masks, vaccines is clear and the path of testing, tracking and treatment is a proven strategy.
"Kai baar hum ye tark sunte hain aur kuch log toh bada sina taan ke bolte hain 'arey bhai teesri leher aane se pehle hum enjoy karna chahte hain' ( Many times we hear the argument and some say it with great assertion that 'we want to enjoy before the third wave comes').
"It is important to make people understand that the third wave will not come on its own," Modi said.
The main question in our mind should be how to prevent the third wave and implement the COVID protocol strictly, he said.
Experts are repeatedly warning against carelessness and crowding as that can lead to a massive surge in cases, Modi said.
The prime minister strongly advocated preventing avoidable gatherings.
"If we remain cautious and take precautions we will be able to prevent the third wave...there should be no compromise in this," he said.
The virtual meeting was attended by chief ministers of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, as also by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, among others.
The chief ministers thanked the prime minister for timely action in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and appreciated his special care and concern for the Northeast.
In his remarks, the prime minister said that in the 'vaccine for all-free for all' campaign of the central government, the Northeast also has the same importance, as he stressed the need to keep accelerating the vaccination process.
To deal with the myths about vaccination and for mobilising people, Modi asked the chief ministers to enlist the help of social, educational institutes, celebrities and also religious organisations.
He called for accelerating the vaccination drive in areas where the spread of the virus is expected.
Referring to the recent Cabinet approval of a Rs 23,000 crore package for improving the infrastructure for testing and treatment, the prime minister said that it will help in strengthening the health infrastructure of the Northeast.
This package will expedite testing, diagnostics and genome sequencing in the Northeast, he said.
Modi also stressed the need for rapidly increasing the number of beds, oxygen facilities and paediatric care infrastructure in the Northeast.
The prime minister said that hundreds of oxygen plants are being established in the country through the PM-CARES fund and the Northeast also has got about 150 plants.
He urged the chief ministers to complete the process of establishing these plants quickly. Modi underlined the need to establish temporary hospitals due to the geographical situation of the Northeast.
Modi also called for preparing trained manpower as oxygen plants, ICU wards and new machines that are reaching block level hospitals will need this. He assured all help from the central government.
Noting the capacity of 20 lakh tests per day in the country, the prime minister highlighted the need to augment the testing infrastructure in the affected districts on priority.
He called for aggressive testing along with random testing. The prime minister also expressed the hope that with collective efforts 'we will surely be able to contain the spread' of coronavirus.
Modi lauded the people, health workers and the governments of the Northeast for their hard work in the fight against the pandemic and creating infrastructure for testing, treatment and vaccination despite the difficult terrain of the states.
Union Home Minister Shah talked about the reduction in the overall daily number of cases but forewarned that this should not lead to one becoming lax and letting one's guard down.
He said that some areas of the country are witnessing high positivity rates and emphasised the importance of testing, tracing, tracking and vaccination.
The Union Health Secretary gave an overview of the COVID-19 cases in the country and discussed the high positivity rate in some Northeastern states.
He also briefed about the steps taken to boost the supply of medical oxygen and also gave an overview of the progress of vaccination, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.
While most parts of the country have seen a steady decline in the COVID-19 numbers, the northeast region has been a cause of concern with the number of cases either rising or not falling in line with the nationwide trend, experts have noted.