The Opposition on Thursday hit out at the government over COVID-19 management, accusing it of mishandling the second wave and struck a word of caution on the spread of Omicron strain of the virus besides seeking clarity on booster doses of vaccines.
In a discussion in Lok Sabha on the COVID pandemic, members called for a ban on international flights in view of the outbreak of the Omicron strain and demanded that the government 'accept responsibility' for the deaths of lakhs of people during the outbreak.
Launching a strong defence of the government, Bharatiya Janata Party members credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his leadership throughout the pandemic, for strengthening health infrastructure and making the country self-reliant in healthcare supplies such as vaccines, face-masks, PPE kits.
"Be it availability of medicines, stepping up oxygen production, ensuring vaccines for everyone or distributing free food grains for the poor, the prime minister cared for everyone," BJP member Rita Bahuguna Joshi said.
The discussion on the issue continued late Thursday night and Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya is expected to reply to the debate on Friday.
Initiating the debate, Shiv Sena leader Vinayak Raut lamented that Parliament was discussing the issue 21 months after the outbreak of the disease and at a time when cases were on the decline.
On COVID-19 vaccination, Raut accused the Centre of allocating vaccine doses to BJP-ruled states in excess and at the cost of non-BJP ruled states.
"The prime minister's responsibility is for the entire 130 crore population. It should not be so that you look at Maharashtra with a sly glance, help Gujarat in good measure and make maximum allocations to Uttar Pradesh because it is going to polls. Allocations should be made on the basis of the population," the Sena leader said.
Trinamool member Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar questioned the government on administration of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
"Why can we not complete the second dose which we were supposed to complete by December or January? Why have we not done it yet," she asked.
Members also flagged views on booster doses of vaccines for the elderly and those with co-morbidities and demanded that the government spell out its policy on the issue.
YSR Congress member Kumari Godetti Madhavi suggested utilising the unused stock of five to 10 million vaccine doses with the private sector for administering the booster doses to healthcare and frontline workers.
BJP's Jagdambika Pal dismissed Opposition criticism that BJP-ruled states were favoured in battling Covid and said there was no discrimination in fighting the pandemic.
Hitting out at the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Pal said when the leaders of these parties were "locked" in their homes, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was going to every district saving lives and had himself contracted COVID.
Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress charged the government with ignoring various warnings leading to shortage of bed, oxygen and ventilators during the second wave.
The second wave has resulted in hardships for the poor as many of them have lost jobs, he said.
Instead of supporting them, he said, the government robbed them by increasing prices of LPG cylinder, petrol and diesel.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi accused the Modi government of being unprepared for the second wave of COVID-19.
"The second wave would have not come if the Narendra Modi government was on alert," he said.
BJP member Nishikant Dubey said that all MPs should come together, leaving aside the politics, for a healthy debate on COVID-19 as the need of the hour is to save the lives of the people from the pandemic.
On people losing jobs due to the pandemic, Dubey said that the phenomenon was not only in India but across the world.
Participating in the debate, BJP's Ratan Lal Kataria said that as a new variant of the Covid virus has emerged, there is a need to be more cautious and follow all protocol properly.
"It is not the time to sit comfortably, we have to be vigilant," he said.
They should encourage people engaged in the fight against the pandemic, he said.
Samajwadi Party's ST Hasan said the number of people who lost their lives due to COVID-19 should be ascertained and compensation be provided to the kin of the deceased. He also said families of journalists who died due to COVID should also be given compensation.
Hasan also congratulated the government for running a "successful" vaccination programme and stressed the importance of administering the second dose of COVID vaccine.
Amol Kolhe of the Nationalist Congress Party said international flights should be stopped in view of the new variant of COVID Omicron.
Likening the COVID-19 response as a 'war against the pandemic,' Kolhe hoped that the 'general' will not leave the battle field.
"We hope that the prime minister will stay put in the battlefield to take on the virus and not move to election rallies," the doctor-politician said.
Kolhe and Raut also favoured reduction in the 86-day gap between two Covishield vaccine doses and demanded that the government spell out status of vaccination for children.
Trinamool member Shatabdi Roy wondered why assembly polls were held in eight phases in West Bengal.
Nationalist Congress Party member Supriya Sule wondered why the vaccination certificates carried photographs of the prime minister when states were equal stakeholders in the inoculation drive.