Amid criticism of the government’s handling of one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said on Monday that the federal government would play a bigger role procuring Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of states. It’s a process that had been mired in confusion because of squabbling between the central and state governments and a lack of vaccine supply.
Mr. Modi said in a nationwide address that his government would increase both the pace of inoculations and the purchasing of vaccines. Less than 4 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
“The government of India will procure 75 percent stock from vaccine manufacturers and provide it to states,” he said. “That means, no state governments will have to spend anything on vaccines.”
Many Indian states had earlier vowed to vaccinate their populations for free, particularly those ruled by parties in opposition to Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, but they were forced to close vaccination centers after they ran out of supplies. Mr. Modi also announced free inoculations for all Indians above the age of 18, a policy that was earlier reserved for frontline workers and people older than 45.
The prime minister and his government have come under heavy criticism over their handling of the pandemic. Mr. Modi and members of his party appeared at political rallies and allowed mass gatherings to take place before the country experienced a devastating second wave.
Mr. Modi has kept a relatively low profile since his political rallies in April, in contrast with his frequent live addresses during the first wave of the pandemic last year, when he announced a nationwide lockdown four hours before it took effect.
Last week, the country’s top court asked the government to explain how it planned to achieve its own target of inoculating about 900 million adults by the end of the year. It also called out the government for allowing private health facilities to charge people under 45 for vaccinations, calling the policy “arbitrary and irrational.”
Mr. Modi said in his address that private hospitals will still be allowed to procure 25 percent stock of the vaccines. State governments were required to ensure that only 150 rupees, or a little more than $2, could be levied as a “service charge” on top of the usual price, he said.
On Monday, India’s health ministry reported more than 100,000 new cases and 2,427 deaths. Although the numbers are high, they represent sharp declines from May, when the country was reporting more than 400,000 cases a day. India’s official numbers are believed to be a vast undercount, especially as the virus is spreading to rural areas where testing is limited.
Mr. Modi also extended the government’s assistance program for poor households, announcing free monthly food distributions to over 800 million households until November. “The aim of this effort is to make sure no countrymen or their families are forced to go to bed hungry,” he said.