Parties should not play politics on Covid crisis: Mandavia

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Health Minister Mansukh Mandavia emphasized in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that political parties and state governments should not bring politics into the fight against the Covid pandemic, which may have a third wave, even as he assured that the supply of vaccines, oxygen, medicines and other logistics is being ramped up.

The Upper House returned to normal functioning on the second day of the monsoon session with the Opposition agreeing to the government proposal to hold a short duration discussion on the Covid situation, vaccination drive and challenges of the likely third wave.

In a spirited speech that was also his maiden one as Health Minister, Mandavia said the country is in a position where it is getting 11-12 Crore vaccines per month. He said India is headed towards developing the first DNA vaccines with Cadilla Zydus completing third phase of trials. A vaccine for children is also at an advanced stage of development while a nasal vaccine may soon be a reality, he said.

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However, in reply to a question from TMC leader Derek O’Brien that till now only 5% of the population has got both doses of the vaccine and how many people will India be able to vaccinate by 2021-end, Mandavia did not give any number.

During the four-hour long debate that preceded the minister’s reply, 26 members from 21 political parties took part. Several opposition members charged that the government has not revealed the real figures of those who died due to the virus and pointed out the acute shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, medicines like Remdesivir and vaccines.

Mandavia said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appreciated the good work done by some chief ministers in the PM-CM meetings on Covid and insisted there should be no politics on this issue as there is a need to combat the pandemic unitedly.

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“I know there is a tendency to bring in politics. But a crisis should not become a reason for politics. If we decide to take a pledge not to allow the third wave, we will succeed,” he said, adding that whenever there has been success the states have taken credit and if anything went wrong, the Prime Minister was held responsible.

The minister did not spare the opposition and states ruled by it, slamming them on the issue of vaccines and the death figures and so on. He said according to figures available with him, among the states complaining about vaccine shortage one has 10 Lakh doses while another has 15 Lakh. He did not name them.

Foreign vaccines which have met trial standards abroad have been accepted, the minister said, adding that Sputnik V is now available in India.

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On states attempt to procure vaccines, Mandavia said some states floated global tender, but no international company came forward. He also countered the charge that the Centre was concealing death figures, saying it is the job of state governments and the Centre only collects and publishes them.

Mandavia said there are “rumours” that the third wave will affect children and efforts are on to meet this challenge.

Among the proactive measures taken by the Modi government, Mandavia enumerated the formation of the Group of Ministers in February, the decision to install 1573 PSA Oxygen plants across the country,

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Mandavia said of the sanctioned PSA plants, 316 have already been commissioned while the rest will be completed by August-end. 56,000 ventilators have been given to states. He also mentioned the Rs 23,000 Crore package announced by the Modi government and said as soon as states send their plans and demands the funds will be sent to them.

During the debate, Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that at least 52 Lakh people have died due to Covid and the government data is false. Pointing out various lacunae in the government efforts, he said, “The government is responsible for this. It failed and it should take responsibility.” The Congress leader said the ex-health minister Harsh Vardhan had been made a scapegoat when it is the Prime Minister who failed.

Deputy Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma said, “After the first wave there was a fatigue and some complacency.”

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During his speech, Mandavia shared a personal note, saying his daughter worked as a medical intern in a Covid ward during the pandemic. As a parent he used to be worried about her safety but was also proud of her work.

He criticized the Taali-Thaali jibe taken by the Opposition at the Prime Minister and said it was aimed at encouraging the Covid warriors, and medics like his daughter.

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