Leaders of 13 Opposition parties on Sunday urged the Centre to launch a free mass vaccination programme in the country to control the surge of the coronavirus pandemic, PTI reported. They asked the Centre to utilise the budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crore made towards the pandemic, for the vaccination drive.

In a joint statement, the leaders also called upon the Centre to ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply to all hospitals and health centres.

The statement was signed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Deve Gowda, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav and Left leaders D Raja and Sitaram Yechury.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an acute shortage of basic facilities like the beds, ventilators, oxygen supplies and drugs as hospitals struggle to hold together the country’s healthcare infrastructure. In multiple incidents, several patients across the country have died after hospitals ran out oxygen. Besides, many states have complained that they were not receiving the amount of oxygen allocated for them by the Centre.

Meanwhile, under the third phase of inoculation against coronavirus, which made all adults eligible for the shots from May 1, the Centre has asked states and private hospitals to procure the vaccines from open markets for the 18-45 age group.

Under the new vaccination policy, 50% of the shots manufactured will be earmarked for the Centre. This quota will be used to inoculate priority groups who were already eligible for the shots. The remaining half of the vaccines will be available for states and private hospitals. Almost all states have announced free vaccination at government hospitals, but those in the 18-45 age group taking the shots in private facilities will have to pay for them. Even in case of states, the respective governments will have to carry the cost burden, which may lead to a strain for the poorer ones.