Determined to help India in Covid fight: US President Joe Biden

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US President Joe Biden on Sunday said the assistance offered by his country to India to combat a devastating surge in Covid-19 cases is in exchange for the help provided by India last year when America was struggling to tackle the outbreak.

He also said Washington was “determined” to help New Delhi, pushing back on narrative that America was late to come to India’s rescue.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden wrote in a tweet on Sunday, retweeting a post from his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who announced the assistance after a phone call with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

People familiar with discussions leading up to the announcement on both sides echoed the framing of the assistance as a gesture between partners, with the US returning the favour.

Biden did not specify in the tweet, but he meant the assistance announced by his administration on Sunday was similar in nature – and reciprocal – to the lifting of an export ban by India to release a consignment of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April last year on a request from then president Donald Trump.

HCQ, an antimalarial drug, was being used as a prophylactic in some cases against the coronavirus. Trump, however, had touted it as a “game changer” in his bid to control the outbreak, which he saw as a drag on his re-election chances.

Trump pushed Modi to release a consignment of HCQ last April despite the export ban, with a threat of retaliation. India made an exception for Trump and released the consignment. He himself later took a course of the drug after a possible exposure to the virus.

The exception made by Modi then was similar to the one made by Biden now to release raw materials for vaccines being made in India, in contravention of restrictions in force since February, when Biden had invoked the Defense Production Act to make it mandatory for American suppliers of such raw materials to prioritise orders placed by American buyers over those by outsiders.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” US national security council spokesperson Emily Horne said, announcing US support and supplies for India.

People familiar with these talks and developments said the first shipments of US supplies announced on Sunday could arrive in India as early as this week, including the most urgent of them all: oxygen, which has been in short supply in hospitals across India.

The United States and India are looking are four options on how best to address the immediate crisis. They are looking at oxygen concentrators, fan-like devices that enhance oxygen in an enclosed room; oxygen generator plants, small units that supply oxygen to hospitals; oxygen cylinders, which are in short supply in India; and containers to ship oxygen, which are like cryogenic containers supplied to India by Singapore.

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