COVID-19 updates: Centre caps vaccine prices at private hospitals; UP, Bihar ease curbs as new cases fall below one lakh

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday issued an order capping the service charge to Rs 150 for the administration of three approved COVID vaccines in private hospitals across India, effetively reducing the per dosage cost of vaccines. While COVAXIN and Covishield are priced at Rs 1,410 and Rs 780 per dose, respectively, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine will cost Rs 1,145 per dose in private hospitals. These prices are also inclusive of 5 percent GST.

Earlier today, Dr VK Paul, Member-Health, Niti Ayog, during a press briefing, said that the Centre has placed an order to purchase 25 crores doses of Covishield and 19 crore doses of COVAXIN. He said the vaccines will be available till December 2021, starting now.

Paul, during a routine health briefing, also added that another order to purchase 30 crore doses of Biological E’s vaccine has also been placed by the Central government, which will be made available by September. The per dosage cost of Biological E's vaccine, however, is not avaiable yet.

This comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that states will be alotted 75% of all vaccines made in India tobe administered for free on all adults. The Centre also released revised guidelines for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. These guidelines will be implemented from 21 June.

As part of the new rules, vaccination doses will be provided free of cost to states and Union territories based on each state’s population, disease burden and the progress to vaccination. Wastage of vaccine will affect the allocation negatively. Domestic vaccine manufacturers will be given the option to provide vaccine directly to private hospitals.

The government said to promote the spirit of “Lok Kalyan”, it will encourage the use of non-transferable "electronic vouchers" which can be redeemed at private vaccination centres.

"This would enable people to financially support vaccination of economically weaker sections at private vaccination centres," the government said. In other words, it would enable affluent people to pay for the vaccination of low-income individuals at private centres.

The government also reiterated its warning to avoid large gatherings for a couple of months and follow COVID-19-appropriate behaviour to avert any future wave, even as it noted that there has been a continued and sharp decline in daily new coronavirus cases in the country.

In a joint press briefing on the pandemic situation, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said an almost 79 percent decline in daily new COVID-19 cases has been noted since the peak on 7 May. There has been a continued and sharp decline in daily new cases, he said on the second wave of COVID-19.

This, as India registered 86,498 new coronavirus cases, pushing the infection tally in the country to 2,89,96,473 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. This is the lowest daily tally of infections in more than two months. With 2,123 deaths, the toll climbed to 3,51,309.

Meanwhile, All India Institute of Medical Sciences chief Randeep Guleria, also present at Tuesday’s health briefing, said there was no evidence to suggest that children were at a higher risk of getting infected in subsequent waves of the pandemic. His comment came amid concerns raised from several state governments, that children might be more vulnerable in case of a third wave of the pandemic.

“It is a piece of misinformation that subsequent waves of the COVD-19 pandemic are going to cause severe illness in children,” Guleria said. “If you look at the data for the second wave [of coronavirus], 60-70 percent of children who were admitted to hospitals had co-morbidities or low immunity.”

'Near-to-door' vaccination more appropriate than door-to-door: Centre

As the Centre announced its revised guidelines for vaccination, it also informed the Bombay High Court on Tuesday that a door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination programme for senior citizens, the specially-abled, bed-ridden and wheelchair-bound people is currently not possible, but it instead suggested to start "near-to-door" inoculation centres.

The Union government in its affidavit filed in the Bombay High Court said the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration (NEGVAC) has considered the issue of door-to-door vaccination and opined that "near-to-door" vaccination would be an appropriate solution, and not door-to-door vaccination.

The court noted that almost 25 crore people have been vaccinated in India.

"Which other country has been able to do so with so much population. The government can do this (door-to-door vaccination) too. You (government) need to find your own way," Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said.

A division bench of Chief Justice Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni last month directed the NEGVAC to consider if door-to-door vaccination programmes can be started for the said group.

The order was passed in public interest litigation filed by two lawyers Dhruti Kapadia and Kunal Tiwari raising concerns over how several people would not be able to travel to the vaccination centres.

Monsoon session of Parliament likely to begin in July

The government is hopeful that the Monsoon Session of Parliament will begin on its normal schedule in July, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said on Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, three sessions of Parliament were curtailed and the winter session last year had to be cancelled. Last year, the Monsoon Session, which usually starts in July, had begun in September.

"I am hopeful that Parliament session will be held as per its normal schedule starting in July," Joshi told PTI.

Sources said the modalities of holding this year's Monsoon Session are still being discussed. Parliamentary Standing Committee meetings are also expected to resume from the third week of June, according to sources.

Stop illegal adoption of kids orphaned by COVID: SC to states/UTs

The Supreme Court has directed all the states and Union Territories (UTs) to take stringent action against NGOs and individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions of children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The apex court was Monday informed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) that as per data submitted by different states and UTs till 5 June, as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent or abandoned mostly due to the pandemic.

The top court, which passed a slew of directions for care and protection of minors who have become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned, said an invitation for the adoption of orphans is contrary to law as no adoption can be permitted without the involvement of Central Adoption Resource Authority.

A bench of Justices LN Rao and Aniruddha Bose said that wide publicity should be given to provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and the prevailing schemes of the Centre, states and UTs which would benefit the affected children.

Patients ‘turned blue’ after hospital cut oxygen supply during 'mock drill'; probe ordered

The Agra administration on Tuesday ordered an enquiry after a video clip surfaced in which the owner of a private hospital in the city is purportedly heard saying that he conducted a "mock drill" in which oxygen supply was cut off for COVID-19 patients for five minutes.

In the video which went viral on social media on Monday, the owner of Shri Paras Hospital is also heard saying that the bodies of some patients started turning blue after the oxygen supply was cut off.

District Magistrate Prabhu N Singh told reporters that action will be taken against the owner under the Pandemic Act. He said the hospital will be sealed and patients will be shifted to other hospitals.

In the April 28 video, Dr Arinjay Jain allegedly claims that there was an acute oxygen shortage at the hospital during the second wave of coronavirus. "Start discharging people, there is no oxygen availability anywhere, even the chief minister cannot get you oxygen. Modi Nagar is dry," he said.

"We talked with families of the patients but no one was ready to discharge their patients. So we decided to conduct a mock drill so that we could segregate the critically ill patients. After shutting off the oxygen supply for five minutes, bodies of 22 patients started turning blue," Jain said.

He said that families of the remaining 74 COVID-19 patients were asked to arrange for oxygen cylinders. However, the district magistrate said there wasn't a scarcity of oxygen at the hospital and that no patient died due to the oxygen shortage at the hospital.

Bihar, UP, Chandigarh ease lockdown restrictions as cases fall

With cases slowing down, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar on Tuesday announced that over a month-long COVID-induced lockdown will be lifted from Wednesday though night curfew, restrictions on public gatherings and curtailed business timings will remain in place.

The decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the high-powered crisis management group chaired by the chief minister, in view of the let up that has been seen in the recent past in spread of the contagion.

Kumar thereafter shared a gist of the relaxations that will be made in the first week of unlock, but cautioned people against being carried away, with the remark, "there is need to avoid crowding even now".

The state was placed under lockdown on 5 May, while the second wave was wreaking devastation and the active caseload had crossed one lakh, a more than 50 times increase since the beginning of April.

In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the state government announced the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions to all 75 districts of the state, with the active cases coming down the 600-mark in each of these districts.

The night curfew from 7 pm to 7 am and weekend curfew (for the entire day) will, however, continue throughout the state, an official spokesman said. By Monday, the relaxation was extended to 72 districts barring Meerut, Lucknow and Gorakhpur.

In Unio Territory of Chandigarh, where COVID-19 cases have shown a declining trend, the local administration eased restrictions, allowing all shops to remain open till 6 pm and reducing the night curfew timing.

The administration also allowed all restaurants, bars, gyms, clubs and spas to open with 50 per cent capacity. However, the cinema halls and theatres will continue to remain closed.

Meanwhile, the Telangana government extended the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 by another 10 days, however, it eased the restrictiosn between 6 am to 6 pm everyday with the last one hour being given as a grace period for people to reach their homes.

The present lockdown will end on 9 June. Presently the lockdown is being relaxed every day from 6 am to 1 pm and a grace period of one hour, up to 2 PM, for the people to reach homes.

With inputs from PTI