A staffer of the New Zealand High Commission in India has died of COVID-19 at a private hospital in Delhi. New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the man, an Indian citizen, died two days ago. The staffer had started at the High Commission in 1986 when Sir Edmund Hillary was High Commissioner to India, reported RNZ.
Mahuta said: "As you can imagine, we've given the embassy time to process what's happened." "Everyone was living on compound like a family. Our thoughts and aroha are with the family at this time," she added. “Any loss of life is extremely sad and I know that MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) need time to process what has happened under extenuating circumstances of this global pandemic,” Mahuta further said.
Meanwhile, according to an Indian Express report, the deceased staffer is the one for whom the High Commission had sought oxygen on social media from Youth Congress leader Srinivas BV on May 2. The episode had then led to a spat between the Centre and the Opposition Congress. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also addressed the controversy.
What was the controversy?
The New Zealand High Commission had sought help from Youth Congress leader Srinivas BV. "Could you please help with oxygen cylinder urgently at New Zealand High Commission? Thank you," read the tweet. However, the Commission quickly deleted it. "We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry," it said in a follow-up tweet.
Srinivas BV, meanwhile, delivered the oxygen cylinders, adding that the patient inside was "critically ill". "New Zealand high commission opened gates of the embassy and accepted cylinders. Also, they thanked the #SOSIYC team for this quick relief as patient inside embassy was critically ill," the Youth Congress leader tweeted.
Stung by the episode, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement and advised foreign missions "not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen". "The Chief of Protocol and Heads of Divisions are in continuous touch with all High Commissions, Embassies and MEA is responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid. This includes facilitating their hospital treatment. Given the pandemic situation, all are urged not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen," the Ministry said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then commented on the controversy. She said the High Commission should have followed "normal channels and protocols". "Yes, we did see that there was a message that was put out. Our High Commission has apologized for the message. There are channels they can and should be going through for such matters," she said. "But, I should recognize that we do have a local staff member who is within the compound who has been very unwell. That was the basis on which the call was made,” she added.
When questioned whether it looks good for the Commission to ask a member of the Opposition party for help, Ardern said that the High Commission themselves have removed the tweet and acknowledged that that wasn’t the process that should have been used. "There are other means and channels in the High Commission that have found themselves very well supported by the Indian government and also acknowledged that they should have been using those normal channels and protocols," she added.