Lalit K Jha
The United States will be delivering Covid-19 relief materials worth over USD100 million to India in the coming days, the White House said as the first flight carrying urgent health supplies left for the country.
The flight took off from the Travis Air Force Base on the world's largest military aircraft on Wednesday night, the US Agency for International Development said.
The shipment includes 440 oxygen cylinders and regulators, generously donated by the state of California, USAID said.
In addition, on this first flight, USAID is sending 960,000 Rapid Diagnostic Tests to identify infections early to help prevent the community spread of COVID-19, and 100,000 N95 masks to protect India's frontline healthcare heroes, it added.
US state governments, private companies, non-government organisations and thousands of Americans from across the country have mobilised to deliver vital oxygen-related equipment and essential supplies to Indian hospitals during the current outbreak, the White House said.
Asserting that this reflects America's solidarity with India as it battles a new wave of COVID-19, the White House said that the immediate emergency assistance includes oxygen support, oxygen concentrators, oxygen generation units, personal protective equipment, vaccine manufacturing supplies and rapid diagnostic tests.
According to the White House, an initial delivery of 1,100 cylinders will remain in India and can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centres, with planeloads more to come.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also locally procured oxygen cylinders and will deliver them to support hospital systems in coordination with the government of India, it said.
The US is providing Oxygen Generation Units (PSA Systems) as well.
"Multiple large-scale units to support up to 20 patients each, and additional mobile units will provide an ability to target specific shortages. A team of US experts will support these units, working hand-in-hand on the ground with Indian medical personnel," the White House said.
The US is further providing 15 million N95 masks to protect both patients and Indian health care personnel.
The Biden administration has re-directed its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India. This will allow India to make over 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, the White House said.
According to a fact sheet issued by the White House, the US is providing the first tranche of a planned 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug remdesivir to help treat hospitalised patients.
Further, the CDC experts will work hand-in-hand with India's experts in the areas of laboratory, surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modelling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication, it said.
Observing that the US and India have closely worked together to respond to the pandemic, the White House said American COVID-19 assistance has reached more than 9.7 million Indians across more than 20 states and union territories.
The US has partnered with more than 1,000 Indian healthcare facilities to strengthen preparedness, including training of over 14,000 people on infection prevention and control, it said.
The US has also helped keep more than 213,000 frontline workers safe by imparting risk mitigation training for doctors, nurses, midwives, community volunteers, sanitation workers, and others actively responding to COVID-19 in India, the White House added.
It has also launched joint public messaging with UNICEF on COVID prevention that has reached more than 84 million people and provided 200 state-of-the-art ventilators to 29 healthcare facilities in 15 states to care for critically-ill COVID-19 patients, it said.
In its fact-sheet, the White House said that for 70 years, US public health experts from across the government, including USAID, HHS, CDC, FDA, and NIH, have worked in partnership with Indian officials to improve the health of India's most vulnerable communities.
Over the last 20 years, US foreign assistance to India has exceeded USD2.8 billion, including more than USD1.4 billion for healthcare. The two countries and other partners have worked together to reduce new HIV infections by 37 per cent between 2010 and 2019, it said.
Since 1998, the United States and India have worked together to combat tuberculosis (TB) through improved patient-centred diagnosis, treatment and prevention, helping treat 15 million people with the disease.
In the last five years, the United States has helped 40 million pregnant women receive vital health information and services, the White House said.
The United States, in partnership with the government of India and the World Health Organization, has supported initiatives at the district, state and national levels to build frontline disease detection capacity.
The two countries are also working together to advance global health security and fight outbreaks before they become pandemics, the White House added.
Top US senators ask Pfizer, Moderna, J&J for global access to vaccines, including in India
Lalit K Jha
As India faces a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak, five top Democratic senators wrote to Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, seeking global access to vaccines, including technology transfer.
"COVID-19 has infected over 148 million people and killed over three million globally, with hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of deaths being reported daily," the five senators wrote in identical letters to the CEOs of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday.
Senators Elizabeth Warren, Edward J Markey, Tammy Baldwin, Jeffrey A Merkley, and Christopher Murphy said India is a major producer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has exported over 66 million doses globally since January 2021.
But in the midst of the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, India is struggling to vaccinate people fast enough to quell the outbreak, they said.
"Though Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other companies have developed safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus poses significant risks to global vaccination efforts: as the virus proliferates, it is evolves - increasing the risk of a variant developing that renders vaccinations ineffective," the senators wrote.
According to the letter, copies of which were released to the press, there are several steps that vaccine companies could take to expand access to the vaccines globally, including in India.
One of them being that these companies could affirmatively decide to share technology, such as vaccine recipes and manufacturing information, with partner companies to expedite production, it said.
This technology transfer could take place voluntarily, they suggested.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set up multiple mechanisms through which technology transfer could occur, including through its "COVID-19 Technology Access Pool" (C-TAP), which calls on "the global community to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data necessary for COVID-19" and its mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, which seeks to "expand the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines and scale up manufacturing" by facilitating the transfer of technology and intellectual property to those countries.
Experts have also called for the US to support the temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) which would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
The Biden administration has not taken a call on it yet.
"Though wealthier countries, including the United States, have successfully secured vaccines and have made significant strides in vaccinating their populations, many middle- and lower-income nations have less access to vaccine doses. A recent study estimates that unequal global vaccine distribution could result in a gross domestic product loss of USD1.2 trillion annually for the global economy," the senators said.
In three identical letters, the senators said India is facing a humanitarian and public health crisis, with over 350,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day earlier this week.
Amid the recent surge of new cases, India has paused export of vaccines, but it is still struggling to vaccinate people quickly enough to quell the outbreak, the letters read.
India's Serum Institute - the nation's largest vaccine manufacturer - can reportedly produce only 70 million AstraZeneca doses a month, and even when AstraZeneca shots are combined with India's second approved vaccine, there are not enough doses to meet the demand or the need, the senators said.
Currently, a little more than one per cent of India's population is fully vaccinated - allowing the contagious B.1.617 "double mutant" COVID-19 variant to spread widely, they said.
The senators listed steps the three companies could take to increase global vaccine access, including sharing technology, such as vaccine recipes and manufacturing information, with partner companies.
"This technology transfer could take place voluntarily, underpinned by open, non-exclusive, and transparent agreements done in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO)," they suggested.
The senators also asked a time-oriented series of questions to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
These include if they are opposed to the TRIPS waiver. If so, have they engaged in lobbying activities to convey its opposition to the USTR, WTO, members of Congress, or the White House.
The companies were also asked about alternative mechanisms, other than the waiver and entering into voluntarily licensing arrangements, they might have considered to rapidly expand global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Observing that India has asked Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to seek licences to distribute their vaccines in the country as a means of expanding supply, the senators asked the three companies if they have plans to apply for an emergency-use licence for their vaccines in India.
"If so, when," they asked.
Seeking information on what current barriers are preventing expanded access to vaccines in India and the rest of the world, the five senators asked if they have plans to enter into conversations with companies based in India for the purpose of manufacturing vaccine doses there.
"If not, why not," they further asked.
Chinese Foreign Minister promises to do utmost in supporting India's fight against Covid-19 surge
K J M Varma
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday promised to do the utmost in supporting India's fight against the COVID-19 surge and said that anti-pandemic materials produced in China were entering India at a faster pace.
In a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Wang said that the Chinese side "shares empathy for the challenges facing India and expresses sincere sympathy".
"The coronavirus is the common enemy of mankind, and the international community needs solidarity and coordination for a concerted response. The Chinese side firmly supports the Indian Government and people in fighting the pandemic," he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was tweeted by Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong.
Wang said that anti pandemic materials produced in China are entering India at a faster pace to help India fight the epidemic.
"The Chinese side will continue to do its utmost to provide support and help according to the needs of India. We hope and believe that under the leadership of the Indian Government, the Indian people will surely prevail over the epidemic at an early date," he added.
Wang's letter came even as the militaries of the two countries are yet to resolve the disengagement from the remaining areas of eastern Ladakh after the withdrawal from Pangong lake area in February.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday termed as "fake news" the reports of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum's (USISPF) allegations that Beijing has stopped shipments of oxygen concentrators being procured from China to be delivered to India to meet the oxygen shortages in view of the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Asked about the media reports quoting Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of Washington based USISPF, stating China has stopped all-cargo flights delaying his organisation's efforts to source one lakh oxygen concentrators from China to India, Wang Wenbin said it is a "fake news".
Aghi was quoted as saying that in order to overcome logistics challenges, his organisation is sourcing the oxygen concentrators from China for easy transportation to India.
He alleged that in view of Chinese action to stop the logistics flights to India, the concentrators are to be routed through Tokyo and Dubai resulting in delay.
"This is fake news.reports that China has stopped transport of oxygen generators procured by the USA to India is fake news," the spokesman said.
He, however, declined to respond to questions about when state-run Sichuan Airlines which had suspended all 11 of its cargo flights to India resulting in disruption of procurement of oxygen concentrators would resume its flights.
After the announcement to suspend the flights on April 26 in view of the COVID-19, the airline retracted its decision and said it is working out a new plan to resume the services. But so far it has not announced any new schedule.
Asked when the airline would resume its operations, Wang Wenbin said, "I would refer you to the relevant airline".
"China shows deep sympathy to India as the country struggles with rampant COVID-19 and China expresses its sincere condolences to the Indian people. We reiterate China's willingness to help and support India as per its needs," he said.
"Chinese companies have been led by the government to take actions. The first batch of oxygen concentrators have arrived in India. We would like to cooperate with India in multiple ways to provide assistance. We believe India will defeat the virus," he said.
Asked how many oxygen concentrators have been sent to India, he said, "for specific numbers you may refer to websites of Chinese embassy and Consulates in India".
China's Ambassador to India Sun Weidong in a tweet on Wednesday said Chinese medical suppliers are working overtime on orders from India, "at least 25000 orders for oxygen concentrators in recent days. Cargo planes are under plan for medical supplies. Chinese customs will facilitate relevant process".
Wu Zunyou, a chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention told the media here, the 'Indian strain' of the coronavirus has been detected in some Chinese cities.
The surge in COVID-19 cases in some Asian countries has again sounded the alarm that the prevention and control of COVID-19 is far from over, which, instead, is difficult, complex, recurrent and long-term, Wu said, the state-run CGTN-TV reported.
According to official media reports, about 11 Chinese crew members of a cargo ship tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from India.
Wu also pointed out that the mutation of the novel coronavirus has been occurring since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will not stop as long as the pandemic continues. But the transmission of different virus variants can be stopped, Wu said.
"Implementing containment measures is crucial both to stop the spread of the mutant strains and to prevent the occurrence of new mutations," he said.