MUMBAI (REUTERS) - India’s main opposition Congress party on Tuesday (March 16) hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for exporting nearly twice the number of coronavirus vaccine doses than immunisations conducted at home, despite a surge in infections.
India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has gifted or sold 59 million locally produced doses compared with 33 million doses given to its own people since its inoculation campaign began in mid-January.
While some rich countries such as the United States are being accused of vaccine nationalism, India is being lauded globally for sending shots to 71 countries, mainly the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as some of Bharat Biotech’s homegrown product.
Many Indians, however, now want the government to make vaccines available to more of its own people instead of only the elderly and those above 45 suffering from health conditions.
"The priority of the Modi government is not the state but foreign nations," Congress said on Twitter, using the tag #IndiaNeedsMoreVaccines and accusing the premier of focusing on "PR over people".
"The pace of vaccination in states is slow due to the centralisation in vaccine distribution," it said.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told Parliament that vaccines were not being exported at the "expense of the people of India" and that a balance was being struck.
India’s immunisation drive has picked up significantly since Mr Modi expanded it this month.
Still, Bangladesh is vaccinating more people relative to its population using India-made shots.
India plans to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August.
It reported 24,492 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the sixth straight day of more than 20,000 infections. Total cases have now risen to 11.41 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil.
Deaths increased by 131 to 158,856 in the past 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed.
The government has blamed crowding and a general reluctance to wear masks for the spike, ruling out mutations of the virus as a factor, unlike in the West.
India’s worst-affected state, Maharashtra, has ordered cinemas, hotels and restaurants to limit guests to half of capacity until the end of the month.
Weddings and other social events will also have limited attendance.
Maharashtra has also locked down some districts.
Another western state, Gujarat, has decided not to allow fans into the world’s biggest cricket stadium hosting international matches between India and England, after seeing a spurt in cases.
The initial matches were attended by tens of thousands of people sitting or standing shoulder to shoulder, with few wearing masks, leading to widespread criticism on social media.