'Over 40 countries to help India in fight against Covid-19': Harsh Shringla
India is set to receive support packages from more than 40 countries, mostly oxygen-related equipment and consignments of critical medicines, to help 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 transport 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 urgently 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 Tocilizumab from Germany and Switzerland.
Gilead and Roche Pharmaceuticals are helping expedite the supply of raw materials so that domestic production of drugs 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 taking of support from other countries amounted to a shift from India’s policy decision after the 2004 tsunami not to accept 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 also 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 help India because it had provided help over the past year.