The Centre on Tuesday announced that it will kick off the third phase of the countrywide vaccination programme from April 1. Now, those above the age of 45 will be eligible to receive the shots, NDTV reported.

“It has been decided that from April 1, the vaccine will open for everybody above 45 years of age,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said at a press briefing, according to ANI. “We request that all eligible should immediately register and get [themselves] vaccinated.”

Javadekar added that the decision was taken by the Union Cabinet on the basis of advice of the country’s Coronavirus Task Force and experts. “We appeal that all above 45 should take vaccine as early as possible that will provide them shield against coronavirus,” he said.

India had begun the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on January 16, with a target of inoculating 30 crore people by July. After inoculating healthcare and other frontline workers in the first phase, the government is currently vaccinating its older population, with people above 60, and those who are 45 or more and suffering from certain medical conditions, eligible for the vaccinations.

The country has so far administered 4,84,94,594 Covid-19 shots with 32,53,095 doses given on Monday.

India is using the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, a government-backed vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.

The decision to widen the country’s immunisation drive came as India experiences a sharp surge in coronavirus infections. On Tuesday, the country registered 40,715 daily infections, data from the Union health ministry showed. With this, India’s tally rose to 1,16,86,796. The toll climbed by 199 to 1,60,166.

The cases had been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity toward public health guidance led to the latest surge. Gripped by a second wave of infections, several states had been seeking to accelerate the vaccination drive to include younger people.

Earlier on Tuesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately begin vaccinating the younger population. This came after 81% of the 401 samples sent by the state for genome sequencing tested positive for the new United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus.