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June 22, 2021

Macron resumes pre-Covid gig; Russia imposes restrictions; Free Covid vaccines for all Indian adults

June 22, 2021

NEW DELHI: India opened up free vaccinations to all adults in an attempt to bolster its inoculation drive on Monday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off a muted International Yoga Day hailing the practice’s "protective" properties against the coronavirus.

The country’s vaccination drive has significantly slowed in recent months due to a shortage of jabs and hesitancy, even as it battled a vicious surge in cases in April and May that overwhelmed the healthcare system in many places.

Case numbers have since fallen sharply and the authorities have again relaxed many restrictions, sparking fears of another wave. The government had expanded the vaccine roll-out to include all adults aged below 45 on May 1, but states and private hospitals had to procure and buy the shots themselves for the younger age group, leading to confusion and shortages.

But New Delhi later changed tack, announcing it would procure 75 percent of vaccine supplies and distribute them to states so that they can inoculate people for free.

So far it has administered 280 million shots, with barely four percent of people fully vaccinated. The government aims to inoculate all of India’s almost 1.1 billion adults by the end of the year.

"The vaccination drive is expected to pick up speed now... the daily vaccination has picked up over the last week and is expected to strengthen further," community health expert Rajib Dasgupta told AFP.

"However, both existing inequities as well as hesitancy merit deeper attention to make this a success." The free roll-out came as Modi marked the annual Yoga Day event with an early-morning address to the nation as it emerges from the surge, saying the practice had again proved itself to be a source of "inner strength".

"When I speak to frontline warriors, they tell me that they have adopted yoga as a protective shield in their fight against coronavirus. Doctors have strengthened themselves with yoga and also used yoga to treat their patients," Modi said.

Public parks were re-opened in Delhi on Monday, but the number of events for Yoga Day was cut back around the country for the second year running because of the pandemic. Yoga Day -- proposed by Modi and adopted by the United Nations in 2014 -- is observed mostly in India, but also worldwide on the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day.

Throughout the pandemic, India’s government has touted yoga and herbal medicines -- sales of which have boomed -- to protect and give relief to people infected with the virus.

But evidence is scant and the claims have faced pushback from India’s doctors, who wore black armbands last month to protest Baba Ramdev, a guru with ties to the Modi administration who has said yoga can cure Covid-19.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron invited music fans to a socially distanced techno party at the presidential palace on Monday, resuming a pre-Covid tradition to mark the country’s annual street music festival.

France celebrates music in all its forms annually with a giant street party on June 21, the longest day of the year. Masks will not be obligatory in clubs, which will only be allowed to operate at 75 percent of their capacity, Alain Griset, the minister in charge of small businesses, said.

In a related development, Saint Petersburg on Monday imposed fresh restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus with cases rising in the city ahead of matches in the postponed Euro 2020 tournament.

City officials announced a ban on food sales in the Euro fan zone and the closure of food courts in shopping centres. In a televised appearance Monday, President Vladimir Putin said "the danger of the coronavirus has not receded" and that "in several regions the situation is getting worse".

Saint Petersburg and the capital Moscow have faced a recent surge in new coronavirus infections amid a slow vaccination campaign.

The number of daily cases in Saint Petersburg on Monday passed a thousand for the first time since February, according to a government tally. And Moscow recorded 7,584 daily cases after reporting more than 9,000 cases for two days in a row last week, their highest figures since the outbreak started.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin says around 90 percent of the new cases are caused by Delta, a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in India. He also said that there were instances of vaccinated people and those who already had coronavirus testing positive.

Meantime, ex-Soviet Tajikistan on Monday admitted having coronavirus cases for the first time in more than five months, with authorities blaming citizens’ "carelessness" for allowing the disease to return.

Strongman leader Emomali Rakhmon said on January 26 that the country could be confident that it had no cases of the disease after the official count had stopped at 13,308 cases and 90 deaths earlier that month.

But on Monday the government office responsible for anti-coronavirus measures said new cases "have been recorded in the country’s health care institutions" in a statement distributed via the state information agency Khovar.