Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday urged district officials collect data on children and young people being infected with COVID-19 - a worrying possibility as the virus, which has so far not attacked the younger age groups, mutates and spreads across India and the world.
He also warned officials to guard against wasting vaccine doses; he said it is "critical" to ensure maximum use of every vial and that wasting even one dose of the vaccine - of which there is a shortage amid the devastating second wave, meant depriving a person of a degree of protection.
"Concerns have been raised for young people and children due to the mutation of the virus. I request you to collect data related to infection among youth and children in your district and review it continuously," the Prime Minister said this afternoon.
PM Modi was speaking at a virtual meeting with district magistrates from 11 states, including Maharashtra, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh - three of the five most badly affected by the second wave.
The other states represented in today's meeting were Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. The Union Territory of Puducherry was also represented.
After the meeting he tweeted: "Earlier today had an extensive interaction with district officers from various states. These officers are tirelessly working to strengthen the fight against COVID-19."
Earlier today, had an extensive interaction with District Officers from various states. These officers are tirelessly working on the field to strengthen the fight against COVID-19. https://t.co/aSn37pCQpo— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 20, 2021
The Prime Minister's request for district-level data about COVID-19 and children come amid growing worry that a particularly aggressive strain - B.1.617.2 - is infecting younger age groups.
This week Uttarakhand said around 1,000 children had been infected in the past 10 days; over 1,600 of these were reported in the first two weeks of May.
On Monday Singapore - one of a few countries to have relative success in handling the pandemic - said new strains - such as the India-dominant B.1.617.2 - were affecting children in its territory.
None of the vaccines approved for use in India have been cleared for children (those below 18), although Bharat Biotech's Covaxin is due to start trials for the two-18 age group.
Some countries have begun vaccinating children - such as the US and Canada - with the Pfizer shot.
Vaccine wastage - which the Delhi High Court Tuesday said was "criminal" in the current situation - was another point the Prime Minister raised today.
"There is also the issue of vaccine wastage. When vaccines are delivered to you all, we must ensure there is no wastage. You all must monitor this in both urban and rural areas. Stopping vaccine wastage is critical and you all must ensure that we don't have any (wastage)," he said.
There is an issue of vaccine wastage. Wasting even a single dose means not being able to give shield to a life. It is important to stop vaccine wastage: PM Modi pic.twitter.com/3LOAp9IOwu— ANI (@ANI) May 20, 2021
The Delhi High Court was responding to reports that 44 lakh doses have been wasted so far, and said: "We are now losing young ones, why is there wastage of even one dosage?"
The shortage of vaccine doses have set back vaccination drives across the country, with several states, including national capital Delhi, forced to shut down centres for lack of doses. The shortfall has led states to launch global tenders to import vaccine doses directly from manufacturers abroad.
The Prime Minister also acknowledged the hard work of district-level officials, saying the pandemic had made their work "more demanding and challenging". However, he cautioned them against underestimating the deadly virus and called on them to innovate new strategies and solutions.
"Coronavirus has made your work more demanding and challenging. In the midst of these new challenges, we need new strategies and solutions. It is important to use local experiences... and we need to work together as a country," he said.
This is the Prime Minister's second virtual meet with district officials in as many days; on Wednesday he said efforts are being made to increase vaccine supply.
This morning India reported over 2.76 lakh new cases and more than 3,800 deaths in 24 hours. Active caseload is now 31.2 lakh - down from over 37 lakh last week, in signs the second wave has peaked.
With input from AFP