As India battles a second wave of Covid-19 that is killing thousands of people every day, international efforts to help combat the crisis are intensifying, with Britain and the United States now pledging assistance and much-needed medical supplies.
The second wave, which started in March, has quickly spread, with India reporting over a million new cases in just three days. Health facilities have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds for the past two weeks, leaving patients waiting outside hospitals. For the fifth day in a row, India recorded 352,991 new cases and 2,812 virus-related deaths, making it the world’s highest daily caseload.
As India fights a second wave of Covid-19, which is killing thousands of people every day, international efforts to help fight the crisis are ramping up, with the United Kingdom and the United States now promising aid and much-needed medical supplies.
The second wave, which began in March, has rapidly spread across India, with over a million new cases recorded in just three days. Over the past two weeks, hospitals have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds, leaving patients waiting outside. India has reported 352,991 new cases and 2,812 virus-related deaths for the fifth day in a row, making it the world’s highest daily caseload.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet on Sunday that his government would build 551 oxygen generation plants “in every district to ensure adequate oxygen availability.”
The central government has faced widespread criticism for its handling of the epidemic, which has seen overburdened hospitals and citizens pleading for more supplies from state and federal officials on social media. In a desperate effort to save their loved ones, many have taken to the black market.
Modi only spoke to the nation about the crisis for the first time last week, after holding political rallies and downplaying the urgency of the second wave in the weeks prior.
Modi said he had met with experts from the pharmaceutical industry, vaccine manufacturers, and oxygen producers on how to deal with the second wave during his monthly radio program on Sunday.
“I’m speaking to you at a time when Covid-19 is testing our patience and capacity to bear pain. Many of our loved ones have left us in an untimely way,” he said on the radio program. “After successfully tackling the first wave, the nation’s morale was high, it was confident. But this storm has shaken the nation.”
With heartbreaking images from India and rising death tolls making headlines around the world, countries from all over the world have stepped up to provide vital assistance.
The Biden administration and the US Department of Defense will send supplies and assistance to India, including ventilators, personal protective equipment, and rapid diagnostic test kits , and therapeutics, according to the White House and senior officials.
“The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis,” according to a readout of a call between the two countries’ national security advisers.
The US imposed a temporary ban on the sale of raw materials used in vaccine manufacturing earlier this year. Because of this divisive decision, vaccine manufacturers all over the world, including the Serum Institute of India (SII), were forced to search for alternative materials to produce Covid-19 vaccines.
As India’s second wave accelerated, the ban drew growing criticism, with some describing it as resource hoarding — particularly given the US’ improving situation and successful vaccination program.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII, appealed directly to US President Joe Biden on April 16 as the national crisis deepened. “If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up,” Poonawalla tweeted.
The White House announced on Sunday that the ban would be lifted in part, and “specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India.”
The announcement, however, made no mention of sharing AstraZeneca vaccine doses, of which the United States has tens of millions on hand. With the exception of a few million shots sent to Canada and Mexico, the doses have gone unused since they were not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that sending excess vaccines to India was “on the table,” though he provided no timeline or schedule.
He also cautioned that, although the United States appears to be on the mend, with daily cases remaining stable and vaccines on the increase, the virus is a global issue.
“That’s the reason why we and other rich countries have to exert what I think is a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world get this under control,” Fauci said. “A year from now we’ll be in really much better shape than we are now, but there’ll be other countries that won’t be. The quicker we get the rest of the world protected, the more secure will our protection be.”
The UK government also declared on Sunday that it would send 600 pieces of medical equipment to India, including oxygen concentrators and ventilators. The help comes as a result of Modi’s direct request to the UK.
On Tuesday, the first shipment is scheduled to arrive in Delhi.
In addition, India is importing 23 mobile generation plants and containers from Germany, which will be airlifted and arrive in India in less than a week. According to India’s defense ministry, the supplies will be sent to military hospitals that are treating Covid-19 patients.
According to a statement from Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, the country will provide “relief assistance” as a “gesture of solidarity.”
The two nuclear-armed states have had a long and tense relationship, and tensions have risen significantly in the last year. Pakistan has offered to provide ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies.
“I want to express our solidarity with the people of India as they battle a dangerous wave of Covid-19,” said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a statement posted Saturday. “Our prayers for a speedy recovery go to all those suffering from the pandemic,” said Khan. “We must fight this global challenge confronting humanity together.”
Microsoft and Google have also provided India assistance, including funding for medical supplies such as oxygen concentrators.