India set to get assistance from 40 nations in Covid-19 fight: Govt
India is set to receive support from more than 40 countries, mostly oxygen-related equipment and consignments of critical medicines, to bolster the country’s response to an “unprecedented second wave” of Covid-19 infections, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Thursday.
Shringla made the remarks at a news briefing hours after two Russian military aircraft flew in 20 oxygen production plants, ventilators and 200,000 medicine packs, while three special flights from the US were expected to bring in raw materials for Covid-19 vaccines, oxygen generating equipment and oxygen concentrators.
The external affairs ministry is working with the health ministry and other agencies to expedite clearances and to ensure the equipment and medicines speedily reach areas where they are needed the most. Indian missions around the world have lists of urgently needed items – liquid oxygen, oxygen producing units and critical medicines such as Remdesivir and Tocilizumab – so that they can coordinate with foreign governments and corporations to expedite deliveries.
“We are facing an unprecedented second wave of the pandemic. As of now, we have over three million active cases. This has obviously put considerable pressure on our healthcare system, on the capacities and resources that we have,” Shringla told the briefing.
More than 40 countries, including major powers such as the US, Russia, France and Germany, have committed to provide much needed items and Indian and foreign corporations are helping with procurements. Indian community associations in many countries too are pitching in to provide relief materials.
Shringla said India expects to receive more than 500 oxygen generating plants, more than 4,000 oxygen concentrators, more than 10,000 oxygen cylinders, and 17 cryogenic oxygen tankers. Biopharmaceutical major Gilead Sciences has offered 450,000 doses of the antiviral medication Remdesivir while India expects to get some 300,000 doses of Favipiravir from Russia and the United Arab Emirates, and consignments of Tocilizumab from Germany and Switzerland.
Gilead and Roche Pharmaceuticals are helping expedite the supply of raw materials so that domestic production can be ramped up. Indian firms currently produce 67,000 doses of Remdesivir a day, whereas the requirement is 200,000 to 300,000 doses a day. Shringla said these firms expect to boost production to up to 400,000 doses once raw materials are brought in.
Shringla was more circumspect on the issue of whether the support from other countries amounted to a shift from India’s policy decision after the 2004 tsunami on not accepting foreign aid.
“I don’t think we are looking at it in policy terms, we are looking at it in terms of the situation that is very, very unusual, unprecedented and exceptional and we will do whatever it takes to meet the requirements of our people at this point of time,” he said in response to a question on whether there had been a policy shift.
“The current situation is something we have never seen before and may never see again...We have certainly prioritised items that we need, we are sourcing many of these items from many countries, but many countries have come forward on their own to offer assistance,” he added.
Many countries are responding to the situation in India because New Delhi played a proactive role in providing essential pharmaceutical products and even vaccines in the earlier phases of the pandemic, Shringla said, adding that US President Joe Biden and others had said they would assist India because it had provided help over the past year.
India is open to acquiring vaccines from other countries for its immunisation programme till Indian manufacturers ramp up production. Vaccines should be seen in the context of an inter-dependent world with supply chains of raw materials and finished products, Shringla said.
The country’s vaccine programme is based on international cooperation, including with the WHO-backed COVAX facility and Indian firms too have international connections for research and development.
“Today, our needs are far greater, and all our partners understand that what we require is a ramping up of our vaccination programme. We have to go up significantly,” he said, adding all the existing capacity will be needed once the vaccination drive becomes universal for everyone above 18 years from May 1. “In that context, if we can source vaccines we will do it, whether it’s from the US, Russia or other countries,” he said.
Officer on special duty Dammu Ravi, who played a crucial role in guiding India’s response in the initial stages of the pandemic last year, is again dealing with all Covid-19-related issues along with a group of young officers who are working 24x7.
On the issue of accepting support from China, Shringla said: “We know that a number of companies in India are sourcing priority requirements, be they oxygen generators and concentrators, and some of it is being sourced from China. Cargo flights are operating...but I think this is part of meeting requirements in the most effective manner possible.”
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that all international assistance would be exempted from taxes if it was approved by the government and routed to the Indian Red Cross Society. This includes government-to-government assistance and materials donated by corporate and individuals.