US, EU and UK set to deploy support to India as hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 surge

Health workers attach a notice about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine supplies at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, April 8, 2021.
Health workers attach a notice about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine supplies at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, April 8, 2021. © Francis Mascarenhas, REUTERS

The United States is deeply concerned by a massive surge in coronavirus cases in India and will race additional support to the Indian government and health care workers, a White House spokeswoman said on Saturday. The European Union and the United Kingdom are also preparing rapid assistance for the country.


"We are in active conversations at high levels and plan to quickly deploy additional support to the Government of India and Indian health care workers as they battle this latest severe outbreak. We will have more to share very soon," the White House spokeswoman told Reuters.

In a statement issued hours after the first announcement, the White House said it will "immediately" make supplies of material to make vaccines, as well as therapeutics, tests, ventilators and protective equipment available to India.

It listed other initiatives Washington is taking to help India battle its surge, but did not mention sending surplus AstraZeneca vaccine, as a backlash grows over the fate of the US stockpile of some 30 million doses which have not been approved for use.

Washington is under increasing pressure to do more to help India, the world's largest democracy and a strategic ally in President Joe Biden's efforts to counter China, as it grapples with a record-setting surge in coronavirus infections.

The US Chamber of Commerce on Friday called on the Biden administration to release millions of stored doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for shipment to India, Brazil and other hard hit countries.

The Indian government has deployed military planes and trains to get urgently needed oxygen to Delhi from other parts of the country and foreign countries, including Singapore.

The number of cases across the country surged by a record daily rise of 349,691 on Sunday, for a total of 16.96 million cases, including 192,311 deaths, the health ministry said.

The country of 1.3 billion people is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, warned in an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post.

He said some 2,000 people were dying daily, but most experts estimated that the true number was five to 10 times that level.

On Sunday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU is also preparing rapid assistance for India. "Alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India. We are ready to support," Von der Leyen said on Twitter. "The EU is pooling resources to respond rapidly to India's request for assistance via the EU civil protection mechanism."

The United Kingdom also joined in the efforts, with Prime Minister Johnson announcing the country was sending life-saving medical equipment to India, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators: "Vital medical equipment, including hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ventilators, is now on its way from the UK to India to support efforts to prevent the tragic loss of life from this terrible virus."

France is also assisting India with oxygen capacity in the coming days, the French presidency said Sunday. The assistance is to include badly needed oxygen respirators, a source with knowledge of the plans told AFP without providing further details.

Oxygen shortage

Officials from both countries are engaged at various levels to ensure "a small supply of inputs and components from US companies for production of Covid-19 vaccines in India", a spokesman at the Indian Embassy in Washington told Reuters.

He said it was important to work together to identify ways to overcome bottlenecks in medical supply chains and expedite ongoing vaccination efforts.

Jha called on Washington to send India oxygen, excess testing kits and high-quality personal protective equipment, including face masks, and medicines to treat Covid-19 patients, including sedatives and Remdesivir.

Jha also urged the Biden administration to share excess vaccines with India and other countries in crisis, noting that the United States had an estimated 30 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that is in use elsewhere, but has not been authorised by US regulators.

Washington should also lift export controls on raw materials put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February, Jha wrote.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said US and Indian officials were working to find ways to help address the crisis, but gave no timetable for the support.

She said the United States has already provided India some $1.4 billion in health assistance, emergency relief supplies, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators.


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