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  • Hamsini Hariharan

Fighting COVID: India needs all the help it can get

This article first appeared in CNBC TV-18 on April 26, 2021 and can be accessed here.

India’s healthcare system is under stress like never before. Nearly a month ago, when India promised to send vaccines to 75 countries worldwide, I had written that India not delivering on its vaccines means that India’s promises are just rhetoric - a problem that already plagues India’s diplomatic outreach. Now, India’s facing a more significant problem on its hand. The current COVID wave has again put all India’s systems to the test as cities reinforce lockdown measures.

As the Union scrambles to find a response, people worldwide are taking notice of the situation in the country. On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said, “The Chinese government and the Chinese people firmly support the Indian government and people in fighting the pandemic and are willing to provide support and assistance in accordance with the needs of the Indian side. The Chinese side is maintaining communication with the Indian side on this.” This breaks from the previously hostile tone of relations that underwrote bilateral ties between the two countries.

There are other measures already underway. An article by the Global Times notes, “a Chinese logistics company plans to donate 300,000 KN95 face masks to India, and the source is contacting recipients in India. A Chinese motorcycle company has donated more than 200,000 masks to a hospital in Delhi, and a Chinese company in the textile industry has purchased a ventilator in China and is sending it to a hospital in India.” The courier company Delhivery also announced that it would charter two planes to fly in oxygen concentrators from China. Simultaneously, another piece in the Global Times pointed to the idea that international cooperation to help India was middling. It said, “Western public opinion has not shown the same concern about India's epidemic situation as it did to that of Europe and the US. Or maybe it is because India's population is too large, and they believe it is not realistic for the West to "save India." This pandemic shows that the West's getting closer to India is more in a geopolitical sense.”

This hyperbole does not cover the complete picture. The global response to help India meet the shortage of supplies is evident. A number of countries including France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Iran, Japan and the European Union have expressed solidarity on social media. Germany went one step further and announced that the private German company Linde would airlift 24 oxygen transport tanks to India with the help of the Tatas. Russia offered to supply three to four lakh injections of remdesivir per week and to ship oxygen. Singapore provided India with four cryogenic oxygen containers, which the Indian Air Force airlifted over the weekend. Help is even on its way from Pakistan as Imran Khan expressed support. The Pakistani philanthropic organization Edhi Welfare even pledged 50 ambulances and support staff.

On its part, the Indian government has waived the 10% customs duty levied on remdesivir to increase the supplies of the essential medicine. After public pressure on the United States government, it has also pledged support and raw material to India. In this vein, should India take help from China? While China could be one source for procuring medical supplies, particularly oxygen, it is possible that the Indian government does not want to decenter the border problem from its relations with the country. However, at this point, any supplies provided by countries from around the world should be treated as gestures of goodwill, one that could even lay the foundation of confidence-building measures. Ensuring that the healthcare system does not collapse is currently the core national interest. Of course, external aid will not solve India’s current covid crisis as it is up to the government to put down effective emergency strategies. But right now, India needs all the help it can get.


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