The Union Health Ministry on Saturday announced that India’s massive vaccination programme against the coronavirus will begin on January 16 after the harvest festivals such as Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Magh Bihu.

Priority will be given to frontline healthcare workers, which is estimated to be around three crore people. This will be followed by those above 50 years of age, and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities. An estimated 27 crore people fall under the second category.

The announcement came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting to review the coronavirus situation in the country, the government said in a statement. “The prime minister was also apprised on the three phases of dry runs having been conducted across the country,” it added.

To assess the preparedness at all levels before the actual rollout of the vaccine, a third dry run on Friday covered 4,895 sites across 615 districts in 33 states and Union Territories. Experts have said that vaccinating a billion people, including hundreds of millions of adults for the first time, against Covid-19 will be a daunting task in the first tranche.

Modi is scheduled to hold a meeting with chief ministers of all the states on January 11 to discuss the coronavirus situation and the roll out of the vaccine. In an address on Saturday, he said India was ready to save humanity with two “made in India” coronavirus vaccines. The Drugs Controller General of India on January 3 approved coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and another by Bharat Biotech.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday that the vaccine would be made available “in the next few days”, after prioritising risk groups.

India has so far recorded 1,04,31,639 coronavirus cases, the second highest after the United States. As many as 1,50,798 people have died of the infection in the country.