"All Indians Have Right To Free Covid Vaccine," Says Arvind Kejriwal

Delhi logged over 4,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours yesterday - the first time this mark has been breached since September 19

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwal was inaugurating new flyovers in the national capital

New Delhi:

The coronavirus vaccine - when one is finally ready - should be available to all Indians for free, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Saturday, amid continuing controversy over the ruling BJP listing free Covid vaccines in its manifesto for next week's Bihar election.

"The whole country should get free vaccine, the whole country has the right..." Mr Kejriwal said today, while inaugurating a new flyover in Delhi's Shastri Park and Seelampur neighbourhoods.

This is the second time the AAP chief has spoken out on the subject. Earlier Mr Kejriwal's party took a swipe at the BJP, asking if Indians who did not vote for them would also get free vaccines.

On Thursday Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the "first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto" was that every person in Bihar would get free coronavirus vaccines.

The Bihar poll promise was met with shock and indignation by opposition leaders and others, leaving the BJP fending off allegations that it was using the promise of a vaccine - for an infectious and fatal illness that has already killed over one lakh people in India alone - for its political agenda.

Despite the criticism that followed - Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, southern actor-politician Kamal Haasan and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah were among those who hit out at the BJP - Tamil Nadu (where the BJP is allied with the ruling AIADMK) and Madhya Pradesh (where the party is in sole power) also promised free vaccines.

The BJP, initially quiet, later responded via Bihar leader Bhupender Yadav, who said the vaccine would be available at a nominal cost, which the states could opt to bear. Mr Yadav lashed out at the Congress for a "desperate" attempt to twist Ms Sitharaman's statement.

Newsbeep

The hunt for a viable Covid vaccine has become the focus of headlines across the world.

India has logged over 78 lakh cases since the pandemic began in China in December last year. Only the United States, with nearly 85 lakh cases, has more.

Delhi has recorded more than 3.48 lakh COVID-19 cases so far, of which around 6,000 are deaths linked to the virus. The number of active cases in the national capital crossed the 26,000-mark on Friday, after a sustained spurt in new infections over the past 10 days.

The city logged over 4,000 cases in 24 hours yesterday - the first time this mark has been breached since September 19. With the festive season starting, experts fear another explosion of cases.

Earlier this week Covaxin, the vaccine being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and one of three candidates being tested in the country, was cleared for the third and final phase of clinical trials.

Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured "speedy" access to the vaccine for all and suggested officials apply lessons from India's successful conduct of national elections to ensure vaccine delivery and distribution.