Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. (File pic)
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. (File pic)

Harsh Vardhan lashes out at Maharashtra government, says it has dragged country's efforts against COVID-19

ANI | Updated: Apr 07, 2021 20:03 IST

New Delhi [India], April 7 (ANI): Noting that vaccination has to be prioritised so long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday accused the Maharashtra government of "misgovernance" in tackling COVID-19, saying that it has followed "utterly casual approach" and is putting the residents in danger "by letting people escape institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal vasuli".
In a statement, the Health Minister said he had seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about the shortage of vaccines and asserted that it was nothing but "an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government's repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic".
The minister said the "lackadaisical attitude of the state government has singularly bogged down the entire country's efforts to fight the virus" and the lack of efforts of the part of the state government "is now clearly visible and come to haunt us all".
He accused the MVA government in Maharashtra of focusing its energies on "playing politics and spreading lies to create panic".
"The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless," he said.
He also said there had been regular comments by leaders from Chhattisgarh that are intended to spread misinformation and panic on vaccination. The minister said by their actions, the leaders of Congress government in Chhattisgarh "have the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the word to have incited vaccine hesitancy".
"I would like to humbly state that it would be better if the state government focuses its energies on ramping up their health infrastructure rather than on petty politicking," he said.
The minister said that in Punjab, the high case fatality rate needs to be improved by early identification of those needing hospitalization.
Harsh Vardhan said that the performance of the Maharashtra government in terms of vaccinating healthcare workers and frontline workers is also not great.
"It is shocking to see how the state Government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal vasuli. Overall, as the state has lurched from one crisis to another, it seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheels.
"Maharashtra Government needs to do a lot more to control the pandemic and the Central Government will help them in all possible ways. But focusing all their energies on playing politics and spreading lies to create a panic is not going to help the people of Maharashtra," he said.
In his comprehensive statement, the minister said he had in recent days seen with growing dismay a number of irresponsible statements from some state government functionaries in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As these statements have the potential to mislead the public and spread panic, it has become necessary to put the record straight. At a time when the country is witnessing a fresh wave of rising COVID-19 infections, I am alarmed to note the fact that many state governments have failed to take appropriate response measures and apply the lessons that the nation has learned over the past year of handling this pandemic."
The minister took strong exceptions to remarks by a section of political leadership to open up vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 or to drastically lower the minimum age criteria for vaccination eligibility.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had written to the Centre to allow vaccination to all those above 25 years.
Harsh Vardhan said the central government has been updating all the state governments about the demand-supply dynamics and the resultant vaccination strategy.
He said vaccination strategy has been drawn up after extensive consultations in partnership with all state governments.
"The same has also been a matter of public record for several months now. It bears repeating that the primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable the society to beat the pandemic".
"So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize. This is also an established practice around the world and is well known to all state governments. When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different," he said.
The minister said Maharashtra has vaccinated just only 86 per cent of health workers with the first dose and the equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72 per cent and 64 per cent.
"On the other hand, 10 Indian states/UTs have done more than 90 per cent," he said.
He also gave figures related to vaccination of frontline workers for first and second doses and senior citizens done by Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab and of several other states and union territories doing better.
"Doesn't it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goalposts? Politicizing such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better," he said.
"Throughout the last year, as the Health Minister of India, I have been a witness to the misgovernance and utter casual approach of Maharashtra Government in battling the virus," he said.
"We, in the central government, have regularly counselled the Maharashtra state government, made them available all resources and sent central teams for help. However, the lack of efforts of the part of the state government is now clearly visible and come to haunt us all.
"Today, Maharashtra not only has the highest cases and deaths in the country but also has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world! Their testing is not up to the mark and their contact tracing leaves a lot to be desired."
He said the Maharashtra government needs to do a lot more to control the pandemic and the central government will help them in all possible ways.
"But focusing all their energies on playing politics and spreading lies to create panic is not going to help the people of Maharashtra."
The minister said Chhattisgarh has seen a disproportionately higher number of deaths in the last two three weeks.
"Their testing remains heavily dependent on rapid antigen tests which is not a wise strategy."
He said the state government refused to use Covaxin despite it being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Drug Controller of India.
"Not only this, by its actions, the leaders of the state government have the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the world to have incited vaccine hesitancy."
Noting that many other states also need to bring their healthcare systems up to the mark, he said the quality of testing needs to improve in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The minister said mask-wearing and social distancing compliance are slack in a large number of states. "There is a lot that needs to be done, and we must do it all with speed and at scale."
Harsh Vardhan said he was constrained to speak out now and his silence should not be misconstrued for weakness.
"Playing politics is easy, but improving governance and health infrastructure is the real test," he said.
The minister said the central government is doing everything it can to help states.
He said India has the unique advantage of having talented scientists and doctors and hard-working healthcare workers.
"All of us need to work hard and work together to defeat this pandemic. Let us not squander the gains we have made and focus on our solemn public duty. We owe the citizens of India nothing less," he said.
India is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases with maximum cases reported from Maharashtra. (ANI)