The US said on Sunday it will provide India raw materials urgently needed for making the Covishield vaccine and supply equipment such as ventilators and oxygen generation gear to support the country’s response to a massive surge in Covid-19 cases.
The pledge, made by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a phone conversation with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, came against the backdrop of calls from lawmakers and businesses for the Biden administration to do more and criticism from some quarters for what is being seen as Washington’s lethargic reaction.
“Just as India sent assistance to the US as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the US is determined to help India in its time of need,” US national security council spokesperson Emily Horne said after the conversation between the NSAs.
The European Union (EU) and Germany too said on Sunday they were mobilising aid to support India, while the UK announced it was sending more than 600 pieces of medical equipment, including ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices. The first package from Britain will arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday, with further shipments later in the week.
Canada, Iran and Pakistan said they were ready to supply equipment and medical supplies to help India tackle the crisis caused by a second wave of infections.
The US has “identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India”, US national security council spokesperson Horne said.
Therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) will also be immediately made available to treat patients and protect frontline health workers. The US is “pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis”, she said.
The US will deploy an expert team of public health advisors from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and USAID to work with the US embassy, India’s health ministry and Epidemic Intelligence Service staff, while USAID will work with CDC to fast-track mobilisation of emergency resources available to India through the Global Fund.
The US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is funding an expansion of the manufacturing capability of Indian vaccine manufacturer BioE to produce at least a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, Horne said.
While speaking to Doval, Sullivan expressed deep sympathy for the Indian people and affirmed America’s solidarity with India, “the two countries with the greatest number of Covid-19 cases in the world”. Building on the seven-decade health partnership between the two sides, Sullivan and Doval resolved the two countries will continue to jointly fight the global pandemic.
Earlier, Sullivan and secretary of state Antony Blinken had expressed the Biden administration’s support for India in separate tweets. “Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes,” Blinken tweeted.
The Biden administration has faced mounting calls to do more on several fronts related to the crisis in India.
Lawmakers from the House of Representatives and Senate – all Democrats – called on the administration to back a proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to grant a temporary waiver from intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines to make them easily accessible.
There was also the issue of raw materials for making Covid-19 vaccines, raised by Indian companies with popular support. US suppliers of these items are required to prioritise orders from American buyers after President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act.
The Serum Institute of India had called for the US to “lift the embargo” on raw materials and the matter was discussed by external affairs minister S Jaishankar with Blinken, while foreign secretary Harsh Shringla raised it with deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman.
US experts believed the Biden administration could have done more. “Tweetments are good, action is better. Time is crucial here,” said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, referring to the tweets by Blinken and Sullivan.
The US Chamber of Commerce called on the Biden administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses from its stockpile, which the US is unlikely to use because Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots will more than meet its needs. The US has also not authorised the AstraZeneca shot.
Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley tech billionaire and investor, and Raja Krishnamurthi, an Indian American Democratic lawmaker, echoed that call. Khosla offered to fund oxygen supplies for India. “I’m willing to fund hospitals in India that need funding to import bulk planeloads of oxygen or supplies into India to increase supply,” he tweeted.
Janez Lenarčič, the EU commissioner for crisis management, said on Sunday the bloc’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) was coordinating with member states to rapidly provide urgently needed oxygen and medicines to India.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who caused a stir in New Delhi last week with her criticism of the slowdown of vaccine exports from India, expressed solidarity in the “common fight” against Covid-19 and said Germany was preparing a “mission of support”. Lenarčič, responsible for EU’s humanitarian aid and the European emergency response coordinator, said the support was being provided in response to a request from India.
“Upon request for assistance by #India, we have activated the #EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The [EU] will do its utmost to mobilise assistance to support people of [India],” he tweeted.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that details of aid to be provided by EU and Germany were in the final stages of being worked out and a clearer picture would be available by Monday.
Canada’s public services minister Anita Anand told a news conference on Saturday that Ottawa has communicated its willingness to assist New Delhi. “We will stand ready with PPE (personal protective equipment) and ventilators and any items that might be useful for the government of India,” she said. Anand was quoted by the outlet Global News as saying that the Canadian government was in touch with India and through its envoy in New Delhi, Nadir Patel, “about a number of options that may be on the table for us to assist”.
In a statement issued late on Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry offered to provide relief support to India, including ventilators, bilevel positive airway pressure (Bi PAP), digital X-ray machines, PPEs and related items, as a gesture of solidarity.
“The concerned authorities of Pakistan and India can work out modalities for quick delivery of the relief items. They can also explore possible ways of further cooperation to mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic,” the statement said.
Iran’s health minister Saeed Namaki offered help in a letter sent to his Indian counterpart Harsh Vardhan. “The government and people of Iran are ready to spare no technical assistance, expertise and equipment in these difficult days and at the height of the plight of the dear citizens of India with the Covid-19 epidemic,” he said.
“We hope that the exchange of experiences with scientific, research and production centres of the two countries can create a brighter future for the two countries with a long history of scientific, cultural and production exchanges,” he added.