WILMINGTON, UNITED STATES (REUTERS) – The United States is deeply concerned by a massive surge in coronavirus cases in India and plans to quickly deploy additional support to the Indian government and health care workers, a White House spokeswoman said on Saturday (April 24).
“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 spokeswoman told Reuters via email.
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 crisis as deepened in India in recent weeks and overwhelmed hospitals in India begged for oxygen supplies on Saturday as the country’s coronavirus infections soared again overnight in a “tsunami” of disease, setting a new world record for cases for the third consecutive day.
Max Healthcare, which runs a network of hospitals in north India, tweeted that it had less than two hours of oxygen left while Fortis Healthcare, another big chain, said it was suspending new admissions in Delhi.
“We are running on backup, waiting for supplies since morning,” Fortis said.
India is in the grip of a rampaging second wave of the pandemic, hitting a rate of one Covid-19 death in just under every four minutes in Delhi as the capital’s underfunded health system buckles.
The country of 1.3 billion people is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe dean of the Brown University School of Public Health Ashish Jha 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.
The government has deployed military planes and trains to get oxygen to Delhi from the far corners of the country and overseas 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.
But experts say the number of cases is likely many times higher and could rise further.
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.
“We believe it is important to work together to identify both bottlenecks in medical supply chains and potential solutions for overcoming these (bottlenecks), and to combat the global pandemic together and expedite ongoing vaccination efforts,” the spokesman said.
Dr 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.
Dr 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 authorized 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, Dr 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 US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) in health assistance, emergency relief supplies, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators.