Bhutan, Maldives first to benefit from India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’
Bhutan and the Maldives on Wednesday became the first countries in India’s neighbourhood to benefit from the government’s roll-out of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines under a grant assistance programme dubbed “Vaccine Maitri”.
Two aircraft took off several hours apart, carrying 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccine for Thimphu and 100,000 doses for Male. The external affairs ministry has said India will initially provide vaccines to Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.
On Thursday, India will supply two million doses of Covishield to Bangladesh and another million doses to Nepal. This assistance reflects the government’s commitment to “Neighbourhood First” policy, people familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.
With the shipping of doses to Bhutan and the Maldives, India also became the first country to provide South Asian nations with vaccines as aid.
Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, health minister Dechen Wangmo and senior officials received the vaccines ferried by an Indian Air Force aircraft to Paro international airport.
“As we celebrate the arrival of vaccines as the new milestone in our battle to beat the pandemic at home, we applaud the gesture that signifies the compassion and generosity of the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, and the people of India for the well-being of humanity,” Tshering said. “It is of unimaginable value when precious commodities are shared even before meeting your own needs, as opposed to giving out only after you have enough,” he added.
New Delhi has assured Thimphu that it will “cover the two doses requirement of Bhutan’s target population of slightly over 533,500 and has committed to deliver the remaining consignments soon”, said a statement from Tshering’s office.
In the Maldives, President Ibrahim Solih thanked India for supplying the vaccines during a televised address to the nation. “The government had commenced the work of obtaining vaccines for the entire population,” he said.
During a ceremony to hand over the vaccines, Indian high commissioner Sunjay Sudhir said the Maldives had received the doses within 96 hours of the nationwide roll-out in India, highlighting the country’s special place in India’s foreign policy. It also bolstered India’s credentials as the first responder for the Maldives during emergency situations, he said.
India will also help the Maldives secure vaccines at affordable rates from Indian manufacturers, the people cited above said. “The vaccines being supplied are made by the Serum Institute of India in Pune. The relevance of an Atmanirbhar Bharat is reiterated through this timely delivery of ‘Made in India’ vaccines,” said one person.