Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the need to focus on testing, genome sequencing and vaccination at a review meeting for Covid as the number of fresh infections threatened to spiral out of control, driven by the highly infectious strain Omicron.
"There is a need for continuous scientific research in testing , vaccines and pharmacological interventions including genome sequencing given that the virus is evolving continuously," the Prime Minister said, according to a government statement.
Vaccination for adolescents must be conducted in "mission mode" and focus on Covid-appropriate behaviour will be critical in the coming days, he said.
He also suggested that a meeting be held with Chief Ministers to discuss state-specific scenarios, best-practices and public health response.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, and senior government officials attended the meeting. The chief of the railway board and the secretary of the Civil Aviation ministry were also present.
This was PM Modi's first Covid review meet since December 24, when the Omicron variant had just made an appearance in the country. Compared to then, the Covid numbers have skyrocketed, with hundreds of doctors and healthcare workers contracting the virus.
Tomorrow, the country is taking the crucial step of starting the third "precautionary" vaccine doses for healthcare workers and vulnerable senior citizens. Vaccination for 15 to 18 year-olds had started last week.
On the other hand, the approaching elections in five states -- including the most populated state of Uttar Pradesh -- has added another challenge for the frontline workers trying to control the pandemic. Only 52 per cent people have received both doses of vaccine in Uttar Pradesh.
Similar figures have been reported from a few other states -- making the need to double vaccinate a critical mass of 90 per cent people within a month a race against time.
Health ministry data showed this morning that the country saw 1,59,632 fresh coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours, raising the tally to 3,55,28,004 crore, which included 3,623 cases of Omicron.
While the official Omicron figure appear low due to the paucity of adequate genome sequencing labs, the country's R naught value -- which indicates the spread of the infection -- was recorded at 4 this week, a figure higher than the 1.69 logged at the height of second wave.
With it, the Omicron variant has been officially declared the predominant circulating strain by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the nodal body in the fight against Covid.
The maximum fresh cases are being logged in Delhi and Maharashtra.
Today, Delhi is expecting over 22,000 fresh Covid cases -- slightly lower than the 26,169 case of April 23 at the peak of the second wave driven by the Delta variant.
The positivity rate has already spiked to 19.60 per cent, close to numbers that can warrant further restrictions.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said there will be no lockdown if people follow protocol -- wear face masks and maintain social distancing.
"We don't want to enforce a lockdown right now... we want to keep curbs as limited as possible, so the common man is not affected. Tomorrow there is a DDMA (Delhi Disaster Management Agency) meeting, and we will review the situation again," he said.
Maharashtra has already announced a series of fresh restrictions as it logged 41,434 new Covid cases on Saturday. Thirteen people died in the last 24 hours – five of them in Mumbai. The country's financial capital reported 20,318 cases.