New Delhi: Accusing the government of being "ignorant" to the threat posed by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Congress on Sunday demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must follow a clear vaccination policy, provide jabs for children between five and 15 years and spell out the roadmap to combat the pandemic.
The Congress also took a swipe at Prime Minister Modi over political rallies, saying while in Uttar Pradesh gatherings at weddings are being limited to 200, the prime minister is holding rallies wherein lakhs participate.
The Opposition's attack at the Centre over its handling of the pandemic came a day after the prime minister announced that vaccination against COVID-19 for children between 15 and 18 years will start from January 3, while "precaution dose" for healthcare and frontline workers would be administered from January 10.
In an address to the nation, Modi said the precaution dose will also be available for citizens above 60 years of age and with comorbidities on the advice of their doctor from January 10 next year as well.
Reacting to the announcement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the Centre has "accepted my suggestion" to allow the administration of booster doses of Covid vaccine and asserted that the protection of vaccines and booster shots has to be provided to every citizen of the country.
At a press conference, Congress's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that the Modi government has "failed India" during the pandemic.
"Modi ji failed the migrant workers during the first and second Corona wave, Modi ji failed the poor during the first and second wave when he failed to put a single paisa in the hands of the poor when the whole world was doing it, Modi ji failed the small and medium businesses when he virtually left them to fend for themselves," he charged.
Citing surveys, Surjewala said "mismanagement" of the coronavirus pandemic led to death of nearly 40 lakh Indians.
"The tepid response on Omicron virus bordering on the directionless drift is even more alarming now. The entire policy paralysis of the Modi government in dealing with coronavirus including Omicron is marred by failure of leadership, rudderless response and planless preparation," Surjewala charged.
The only solution Modi offers is to "escape responsibility, have completely confused and repeated changes in vaccination policy", be preoccupied with self promotion by putting his picture on the vaccination certificate and hold public rallies, Surjewala said.
He also accused the prime minister of shifting the buck on to the states while shouldering "zero responsibility".
Attacking the prime minister over his address to the nation on Saturday, the Congress leader said that despite the "lofty announcement and the accolades that he was trying to earn yesterday", the harsh reality is otherwise.
"The harsh reality is -- 47.95 crore adults over 18 years of age are yet to be administered 59.40 crore doses," Surjewala said.
The other "harsh reality" is that "where are the vaccine doses", and as per the Modi government, they have availability of 17.74 crore vaccines doses only, he said.
Surjewala said Prime Minister Modi's announcement on Saturday would mean that 25.69 crore people would be entitled to 35.7 crore more vaccine doses, he said.
So the total need of vaccine doses is over 90 crore and asked "where are the vaccines".
India's capacity is to produce 16.8 crore vaccine doses per month, he said.
"So, how and by when, till which date, will all these Indians be administered these vaccines," Surjewala asked.
"The need of the hour is that the prime minister follows the 'raj dharma', adopt a clear vaccine policy, provide vaccine to the children in the age group of 5 to 15 years and suggest a way to save the country from the danger of the Omicron virus," he said.
Surjewala also attacked the prime minister over holding of public rallies in Uttar Pradesh.
"Modi ji did not prepare to deal with Omicron virus but banned gathering of 200 in weddings. However, his own rallies with lakhs of people are going on. When the first wave of Covid came, PM put people's lives in danger by doing the 'Namaste Trump' event, in the second wave did the 'Jan Ashivaad Yatra' and did rallies in West Bengal without caring for people and now again trying to score political points, while in Uttar Pradesh gathering of 200 in weddings is not allowed, two lakhs are brought for PM's rallies using public money by buses," he said.
Surjewala said past experience shows that once the virus has taken root in the UK and US, it hits India within 65 days and within 80 days it is at its peak.
"Why is it that the government is oblivious and ignorant, bordering on criminal negligence, to the threat of the Omicron virus. We know that it doubles between 1.5 and 3 days, it escapes existing antibodies, we know that it changes protein spikes, it is fastest communicable, it will lead to large scale massive hospitalisation," he said.
As many as 422 Omicron cases have been detected across 17 states and union territories in India so far and 130 of these people have recovered or migrated, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday.