WASHINGTON (AFP) – A military plane on Friday (April 30) brought the first US emergency coronavirus supplies to help India battle its devastating surge in the pandemic.
A Super Galaxy military transporter carrying more than 400 oxygen cylinders and other hospital equipment and nearly one million rapid coronavirus tests landed at New Delhi’s international airport as the Indian capital battles a major pandemic crisis.
India is currently recording a world record infection rate of more than 370,000 cases as well as 3,600 deaths a day and a huge international aid operation has been launched with countries around the world promising help.
The delivery, which flew in from the Travis military base in California, followed talks this week between US President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The United States is delivering supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.
US officials said the special flights, which will also bring equipment donated by companies and individuals, will continue into next week.
The US is looking to help India quickly and sharply scale up oxygen supplies available for Covid-19 patients as it rushes in aid.
The first priority “is to try and serve some immediate needs to address some of the acute challenges that they’re having in their hospitals,” said Mr Jeremy Konyndyk, executive director for the Covid-19 task force at the US Agency for International Development.
“I think we’re cognisant that that’s a sort of stopgap approach and we also need to support them to address some of the underlying challenges, which is really about the volume of medical-grade oxygen that the country can produce,” he told AFP.
The US is in talks with India on identifying how to expand the “oxygen supply chain” including developing the technologies to convert industrial-grade oxygen for medical use and improving ways to transport it throughout the country.
The US has also pledged assistance to India with vaccines, but Mr Konyndyk said that giving shots was more of a medium-term measure faced with the soaring cases in the billion-plus country.
“In the immediate term, there’s just not enough vaccine supply in the world, much less the ability to rapidly put in arms, to get control of this sort of surge,” he said.
Mr Biden’s administration said on Monday it would release overseas up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the US.
But several days later, the US has not yet decided how many doses to send to India and other countries.
Mr Konyndyk said the modalities still needed approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Biden administration in the meantime has said is shipping to India the supplies to produce more than 20 million doses of Covishield, a low-cost version of AstraZeneca developed in India.
Mr Biden has faced criticism from development activists for not sharing vaccines more quickly as the US is expected soon to face a glut of doses after rapid success at home.
India – facing the devastation despite being a major vaccine manufacturer – has also pressed unsuccessfully for the US to ease rules on intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines.