Will Kamala Say a 'Little More' on The India Covid-19 Crisis?

Published April 26th, 2021 - 09:17 GMT
Kamala Harris remains silent on the covid-19 crisis in India
Vice President Kamala Harris, who's mother is an immigrant from India, has yet to weigh in on the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in India over the last week. (AFP)
Kamala Harris has not yet weighed in on the massive COVID-19 crisis in India

Kamala Harris, the first-ever person of Indian descent to serve as vice president, has not yet weighed in on the massive covid-19 crisis in India – where a second surge has killed nearly 3,000 people in 24 hours.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held a call with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Sunday expressing 'deep sympathy for the people of India following the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.'

'The two National Security Advisors agreed that the U.S. and India would stay in close touch in coming days,' National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement regarding the call.

'Mr. Sullivan affirmed America's solidarity with India, the two countries with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the world,' she continued. '[T]hey resolved that India and the United States will continue to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic together. Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.'

Horne said Sullivan affirmed the U.S. would deploy any 'available resources and supplies' to India to help with the spike.

'Additionally, the United States is deploying an expert team of public health advisors from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and USAID to work in close collaboration with the U.S. Embassy, India's health ministries, and India's Epidemic Intelligence Service staff,' the statement continues. 'USAID will also quickly work with CDC to support and fast-track the mobilization of emergency resources available to India through the Global Fund.'

Despite this, those in India are waiting to hear from Vice President Harris, whose mother Shyamala Gopalan immigrated to the U.S. from India as a 19-year-old graduate student in 1958.

Her father Donald J. Harris arrived in the U.S. from British Jamaica in 1961.

She is the first woman and first minority to serve as vice president.

President Joe Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the growing crisis: 'Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak.'

'We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India's health care heroes,' he continued in a statement.

India's second wave has overwhelmed crematoriums to the point where grieving families are forced to burn victims in their own gardens.

The country announced a record 349,661 infections and 2,767 deaths in the past 24 hours and bodies are continuing to pile up, with experts predicting the surge to continue for weeks.

In Delhi, 348 deaths were recorded on Friday, one every four minutes, and in the southern state of Karnataka, the government has been forced to allow families to cremate or bury victims in their own farms, land or gardens.

The home ceremonies have to comply with health guidelines but it is hoped the move will ease the pressure on crematoriums and grave diggers.

Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa said the situation was 'out of control', adding: 'It is prudent to swiftly and respectfully dispose the body in a decentralized manner keeping in view the grieving circumstance and to avoid crowding in crematoriums and burial grounds.'

A construction entrepreneur from Bangalore told The Straits Times his family had to dig up their lawn to bury his father this week. 

The crisis has prompted the UK government to send 600 pieces of vital medical equipment to India including ventilators and oxygen concentrators from surplus stocks via nine planes, it was announced on Sunday.

Boris Johnson said: 'We stand side by side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against Covid-19.

'Vital medical equipment, including hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ventilators, is now on its way from the UK to India to support efforts to prevent the tragic loss of life from this terrible virus.

'We will continue to work closely with the Indian government during this difficult time and I'm determined to make sure that the UK does everything it can to support the international community in the global fight against pandemic.'

Bangalore's seven crematoriums have been working 24 hours a day as they try to manage four times their normal workload.

Bookings for wooden pyres in Ghaziabad have run out and bodies are having to be burnt in the spaces between the platforms.

One electric furnace even broke down and had to be repaired due to its excessive use, while a chimney in another furnace cracked from the constant heat. 

There are fears the situation could become even worse in the coming days, with senior virologists warning the second wave still has two weeks to run before it reaches the peak of 500,000 infections a day.

Shahid Jameel, director of biosciences at Ashoka University, said virus models suggest case numbers will continue to rise despite vaccination efforts. 

The current case and death figures are thought to be even higher due to limited testing capacity and the US, Britain and Pakistan have offered to assist with sending medical supplies.  

Dr. Jameel told The Sunday Times: 'You will find two, sometimes three patients in one bed in some government hospitals. I've never ever seen anything like this.' 

India's rival Pakistan has also offered to send essential medical supplies to its neighboring country in a gesture of solidarity.

The United States has faced criticism in India for its export controls on raw materials for vaccines put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February.

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, this month urged U.S. President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on U.S. exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of AstraZeneca shots.

Others such as U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India. 'When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can't let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they'll save lives,' he said. 

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that as a gesture of solidarity with the people of India, it has offered to provide relief support including ventilators, oxygen supply kits, digital X-ray machines, PPEs and and related items.

It said authorities of both countries can work out modalities for a quick delivery of the items and can also explore possible ways of further cooperation to mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The offer came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet prayed for the 'speedy recovery of the Indian people affected by the virus.'

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says Pakistan, believing in a policy of humanity first, made the offer to India and is awaiting a response.

In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by ten times in India. 

People were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.

'Every day, it the same situation, we are left with two hours of oxygen, we only get assurances from the authorities,' one doctor said on television.

The surge is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said citing an internal government assessment.

V.K. Paul, a COVID-task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers and said that the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate enough to cope, according to the newspaper. 

Experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control. Authorities lifted restrictions, allowing for the resumption of big gatherings. 

India's current fatality rate per 100,000 cases is 1.14 per cent, meaning if the nation reaches this anticipated peak there is the potential for 5,700 deaths per day.  

At least 20 coronavirus patients died overnight at New Delhi's Jaipur Golden Hospital on Friday as the 'oxygen pressure was low,' the hospital's medical superintendent Dr Baluja said. 


He added: 'Our supply was delayed by seven-eight hours on Friday night and the stock we received last night is only 40 per cent of the required supply.'

Elsewhere, at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, some 25 Covid-19 patients died on Thursday with reports suggesting low oxygen supplies were again the cause of the fatalities.

As overburdened hospitals were forced to turn away patients, Indian Air Force planes and designated Oxygen Express trains were deployed in a bid to speed up the supply of this crucial medical gas.   

Harrowing images from a makeshift crematorium in New Delhi on Saturday illustrated the extent of the pandemic in India, with Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford describing the situation as the 'tip of an iceberg' to a much larger crisis.      

The crematorium was set up outside a hospital in the capital by desperate people who 'cannot cope' with the number of dead - and were forced to say goodbye to their loved ones in mass services at ad hoc sites.

Several medics have appealed for help on social media in recent days as the shortage worsened, with Max Healthcare and Fortis Hospital at one point both warning they could run out of supplies within an hour. 

Max, which runs hospitals in northern and western India, said on Twitter: 'We regret to inform that we are suspending any new patient admissions in all our hospitals in Delhi until oxygen supplies stabilise.'   

Delhi needs at least 480 metric tonnes of oxygen to affectively treat its Covid-19 patients, according to the Hindustan Times. On Friday, the capital received only 297 metric tonnes of the medical gas. 

People have been begging for oxygen or medical help on social media, and crowds have gathered outside hospitals, with some dying on stretchers as they wait. 

India is recording one in three of all worldwide Covid-19 cases, despite its Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying in February that the nation was 'inspiring the world' with its Covid fight.

'In a country which is home to 18 per cent of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively,' he said. 

Ministers had declared a victory when there were around 11,000 cases a day. 

But health experts say a downward trend in infections late last year lulled authorities into complacency, as they failed to plug the holes in the ailing health care system that had become evident during the first wave. 

They also blame politicians and government authorities for allowing super-spreader events, including religious festivals and election rallies, to take place as recently as this month.

'It's not the virus variants and mutations which are a key cause of the current rise in infections,' Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health expert, said. 

'It's the variants of ineptitude and abdication of public health thinking by our decision makers.'      

The surge has also been fuelled by a 'double mutant' variant, thought to be more infectious, but Dr Jameel believes 'too much' has been made of the mutation.

Instead, he claims the spiralling infection rates were impacted by the lack of messaging for people to take vaccinations in January and February when case numbers were down.

He added: 'In all the euphoria, in all the patting of our backs that we have done so well, we are out of it, we weren't. We were just as susceptible as anybody else.

'So if there is a lesson here to be learned, it's that you have to be on your guard. You have to prepare. We should have been stocking up on oxygen.

'We should have been messaging clearly for people to take vaccines in the months of January and February when the cases were down.

'If that happened at scale at that time, then we wouldn't be facing this situation today. 

'So many things have gone wrong but instead of crying over spilled milk I think it's important to learn some lessons, get some good data, and plan for the future because this is not the end of it.'' 

Last week, the Supreme Court told the Indian government to produce a national plan for the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

Ministers said today they would exempt vaccines, oxygen and other oxygen-related equipment from customs duty for three months, in a bid to boost availability.

In addition, Modi's emergency assistance fund, dubbed PM CARES, in January allocated some £19million ($27million) to set up 162 oxygen generation plants inside public health facilities in the country.

But three months on, only 33 have been created, according to the federal Health Ministry.

Despite this, the Defense Ministry is set to fly 23 mobile oxygen generating plants into India from Germany within a week to be deployed at army-run hospitals catering to Covid-19 patients. 

Each plant will be able to produce 2,400 litres of oxygen per hour, a government statement said yesterday.   

The latest comes as Boris Johnson pledged to support India in its battle against the devastating Covid surge which has brought the country to its knees. 

The UK is 'looking at what we can do to help' after India reported a record-breaking number of new cases in a single day for four days in a row.

Mr Johnson said: 'We're looking at what we can do to help and support the people of India, possibly with ventilators. 

'Thanks to the ventilator challenge, the huge efforts of British manufacturers, we're better able now to deliver ventilators to other countries. 

'But also possibly with therapeutics, dexamethasone, other things, we'll look at what we can do to help.'

A British Airways flight loaded with 600 pieces of medical equipment took off from London Heathrow bound for New Delhi this evening. 

The package includes 495 oxygen concentrators as well as ventilators. The equipment is set to arrive early on Tuesday morning. 

France plans to assist India with oxygen capacity in the coming days to help the country cope with a record surge in Covid-19 infections, the French presidency said Sunday.

The assistance is to include badly needed oxygen respirators, a source with knowledge of the plans told AFP without providing further details.

So far 132 cases of the Indian variant have been detected in Britain, around half of which are in London.  

The variant contains two mutations in the virus's spike protein, which could help it spread more easily and evade vaccines. 

India was added to the UK's travel 'red list' yesterday, prompting a last-minute scramble for flights to Heathrow.

The Prime Minister has also cancelled a trip to New Delhi this weekend where he had hoped to secure millions of vaccine doses.

Government scientists said border measures are not enough to prevent the spread of new variants, but they can delay it. 

One senior source said there were likely to be 'many more' cases of the Indian variant in the UK than the 132 detected so far.

They added: 'It does look like it's more transmissible but we don't know if it is more transmissible than the Kent variant and we don't have any data on vaccine efficacy.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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