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By Aditi Shah and Sachin Ravikumar

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Indian carrier Spicejet carried a large consignment of COVID-19 vaccines from the city of Pune to the capital New Delhi on Tuesday in preparation for what it called the world’s biggest ever inoculation drive.

The private carrier will transport bulk vaccine consignments to several cities as state authorities prepare to launch the distribution process.

“Today marks the beginning of a long and decisive phase in India’s fight against the pandemic and SpiceJet is proud to assist in the biggest vaccination drive in the history of mankind,” the airline’s chairman and managing director, Ajay Singh, said.

COVID-19 cases rose by 12,584 on Tuesday – the lowest daily increase in several months – to 10.48 million and number of deaths increased by 167 to 151,327.

Health officials in several states told Reuters they were ready to receive their first consignments.

In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home-state, Gujarat, officials said vaccine distribution was their top priority.

“These vaccines will be taken to the cold storage from the airport and swiftly delivered to vaccination booths,” said Nitin Patel, the deputy chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi’s government Monday signed purchase agreements with Pune-based vaccine manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, to buy Covishield — over a week after approving the vaccine.

Senior officials are discussing the terms of the deal with the Serum Institute, hoping to bring down prices below $3 per shot. The negotiations have delayed the roll-out of the immunization programme.

(Additional reporting by Neha Arora in New Delhi, Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, Subrata Nagchoudhary in Kolkata, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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