Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of a countrywide lockdown even as India reels under an unprecedented second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. He said that states should impose a lockdown only as a “last resort”.

“Our focus should be on micro-containment zones,” the prime minister said in a televised address. “We will take care of economic health as well as the health of the countrymen. Our effort is to save lives. But the impact on economic activities and livelihoods should also be as less as possible.”

Modi also acknowledged the shortage of medical oxygen across several hospitals, including in Delhi. “This time the demand for oxygen has increased in many parts of the country,” he said. “This subject is being worked on rapidly and with full sensitivity. The central, state governments, private sector – everyone is trying their best to get oxygen to every Covid-19 patient who needs it right now.”

The prime minister added that his administration was also taking measures to increase oxygen production and supply. “The government is making every effort to ensure there are new oxygen plants in the states, that one lakh new cylinders are delivered, and to channel the oxygen used in industrial units for medical purposes,” Modi said.

He said that India was fighting a second war against the coronavirus. “A few weeks ago, the conditions had stabilised and then the second wave hit us like a storm,” he added. “I feel the pain of all those who have lost a loved one in the past few days. The challenge is big but we must overcome it with our resolve, courage and preparation.”

India is currently battling a second wave of the pandemic, recording its largest surge of infections since the outbreak was first reported in the country in January last year. The number of infections and the speed at which the virus has been spreading has left the country’s healthcare system in shambles.

Several states across the country, including national Capital Delhi, are running out of oxygen as coronavirus patients crowd its overburdened hospitals. Hospitalised Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill often need supplemental oxygen to increase its supply in the blood and lungs.

Social media is awash with people searching for beds, ventilators and medicines, while many throng pharmacies looking for antiviral drug remdesivir. However, the Ministry of Health on Monday clarified that remdeisvir is not a life-saving drug and that its “unnecessary or irrational” use on Covid-19 patients is unethical.

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