Amid a staggering surge in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said a lockdown should be the "last resort" to deal with the raging pandemic and asked states to convince migrant workers to stay put at their places of work with a guarantee for their lives and livelihood.
In an address to the nation, he also called upon all stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, to deal collectively with the immediate challenge of the shortage of oxygen cylinders.
Outlining a number of measures taken by his government, including ramping up the production and supply of oxygen and medicine for allowing vaccination for everyone above 18 years of age from the next month, Modi said he also empathises with the pain of those having lost their family members.
The country is fighting a very big battle against the pandemic, he said, adding that its second wave has hit it like a storm after the condition appeared to have stabilized.
"The challenge is big but we have to overcome it with our resolve, courage and preparation," he said.
The two key messages of Modi's over 20 minute-long address was, however, to virtually rule out any immediate nationwide lockdown, a move that had triggered a massive migration of workers from big cities last year and hit the economy hard, and to reach out to migrants.
Industry bodies lauded Modi's address, saying it sends across the right message to everyone about the country's fight against COVID-19, including to migrant workers, and will help the Indian economy tide over this pandemic.
Modi said, "In the current situation, we need to save our country from a lockdown. I would also request states to use the lockdown as the last resort. We have to do our best to avoid a lockdown and our focus should rather be on micro containment zones."
He further said the country can improve the health of its economy and also take care of the health of the people this way.
Some states have announced lockdowns in their worst-hit regions. Delhi is also under a week-long lockdown that will end on Monday.
Modi further said the nation now has vaccines to support India's cold chain system and noted that it has launched the world's largest vaccination campaign with two made-in-India vaccines. India is the fastest in the world to administer 10 crore, 11 crore and now 12 crore vaccine doses, he said, as he dwelt at length during his short speech about a string of announcements made by his government to deal with the worst health crisis ever to hit the country.
In his address to the nation, Modi said the people were suffering but "we need to fight it out with all our might" and expressed confidence that the coronavirus will be defeated with the combined efforts of the people.
"I want to thank our doctors and all our healthcare workers for working non-stop in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Modi noted that the pharma sector was working relentlessly to meet all COVID-19 challenges, including vaccine development and supply.
The prime minister said that the shortage of oxygen cylinders has come across as a major problem and said all stakeholders were working collectively to meet this challenge.
The situation is different from last year when there was no COVID vaccine in the country or infrastructure to produce PPE kits and other much-needed medical goods, he noted.
He said lockdown should be the last option and the focus should be on micro-containment.
"If we all follow COVID-19 protocols, there will be no need to impose lockdowns," Modi said.
He urged the people to reduce their movements and get vaccinated.
Modi also said the children have a key role in convincing elders that they should not leave their homes without proper reasons or for some important work.