Quad members step up Covid-19 support for countries in neighbourhood
India’s partners in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) have stepped up efforts to bolster the Covid-19 response of countries in the neighbourhood, scouring other parts of the world for surplus stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine and providing funds for emergency relief.
The moves by the other members of the Quad – Australia, Japan and the US – have come at a time when China is seeking to take on a greater role in the region by providing Covid-19 vaccines and other supplies.
The US is already looking for surplus stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and other regions that can be used to help Bhutan, Nepal and other countries in the neighbourhood whose vaccine supplies were affected once India curtailed exports in March to focus on its second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Australia recently announced $17.5 million in funding for emergency relief to support Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in their response to increasing Covid-19 infections. Japan is providing 25 portable ultrasound image diagnostic systems to hospitals in Nepal and has plans to send 160 oxygen concentrators and six ambulances.
The Indian government’s decision to curtail vaccine exports had a major impact on vaccination drives in countries such as Nepal and Bhutan, which used doses supplied by India to provide the first shots to hundreds of thousands of people. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that close to three months had elapsed since many people received the first shot in Nepal.
During a phone conversation on Monday, the Nepalese foreign minister requested US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman to “accord due priority” to his country in the distribution of surplus vaccines among developing nations. Cooperation in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic was a key part of the conversation, according to a readout from Nepal’s foreign ministry.
With vaccine exports from India unlikely to resume any time in the immediate future, the US is looking at the possibility of sourcing AstraZeneca doses from other parts of the world so that people in Bhutan and Nepal can be provided with the second doses.
“Some countries may even resort to starting over with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine but obviously if we could solve this by providing a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, that would be the simplest and best solution,” US chargé d’affaires Daniel Smith told a news briefing earlier this month.
Acknowledging the risk to the second round of vaccination in countries such as Nepal, Smith said the US is looking to partner with other countries and boost vaccine production in India to make up the shortfall.
Australia is providing emergency funding to countries in the neighbourhood for support to be delivered by on-the-ground partners. This will include oxygen and ventilators and improving contact tracing.
In Bangladesh, Australia will provide $5 million to partners such as the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society for purchasing essential supplies, including oxygen and related equipment. This is in addition to $5.7 million provided earlier for equipment and training.
In Nepal, Australia will provide $7 million for purchasing essential equipment through the UN and NGO partners. Australia is already providing equipment to hospitals in Nepal’s most severely affected areas bordering India, as well as testing kits and training for health workers.
Australia will provide $5.5 million to the UN SDG Fund in Sri Lanka for critical supplies and health systems. It already provided more than $6.2 million in Covid-19-related support to Sri Lanka during 2020-21. Australia has also delivered oxygen and related supplies through the UNICEF, including 291 oxygen cylinders and 342 oxygen regulators.
India and its partners in the Quad have been keeping a close eye on China’s moves in the neighbourhood, including the supply of vaccines as grants. Bangladesh received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine as a gift on May 12 and the Chinese embassy in Dhaka has announced that the second batch of doses will be donated soon.
On Monday, China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, announced on Twitter that Beijing will donate 700,000 doses of vaccines to Kabul.