UK adds oxygen generation units to urgent life-saving equipment dispatched to India in its ‘hour of need’.
“We stand with the Indian people in this hour of need. Taking our lead from what the Indian government advises is most useful,” UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister for Asia Nigel Adams told the House of Commons during an urgent question tabled on Britain’s support for India as it fights a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has shown the importance of international action. No one is safe until everyone is safe. So, we will keep working closely with the Indian government to help them meet the huge challenge they face and continue to show solidarity with the Indian people,” he said.
Soon after the minister confirmed that 400 oxygen concentrators will land in India this week, following the first batch of 200 ventilators and concentrators sent earlier, the FCDO announced that it would be adding further to that assistance package with three so-called "oxygen factories" capable of high levels of oxygen production per minute.
The three oxygen generation units will be sent from surplus stocks in Northern Ireland, with each oxygen unit capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute, enough for 50 people to use at a time. The mini-factories, the size of shipping containers, have been organised to meet the ongoing massive demand for oxygen at Indian hospitals as one of the main requirements during a devastating second wave of the pandemic in the country.
“We have all seen the harrowing pictures of what is happening in India. It pains each one of us who is seeing those scenes," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"India is a stark reminder that the pandemic is not over and a reminder of the need to be vigilant," he said, as he revealed that he had been working with the devolved Northern Ireland government to organise the supply of the oxygen production equipment.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the support was sent in response to a request from India and a pledge from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the UK to do all it can to help.
“We stand with our Indian friends in their fight against COVID-19. International collaboration is more essential than ever, and this additional UK support package will help meet India’s current needs, particularly for more oxygen,” said UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Amid growing questions about vaccine help from the UK, Hancock pointed to the UK-India science collaboration which had ensured at-cost supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines to the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing some of the largest number of doses of the jabs in the world by “benefitting from British science”.
“We currently have no excess doses, we are doing what we can… but we work very closely with India on vaccine production,” the minister said.
“That is the biggest contribution we can make," Hancock said.
In a clear sign of how the crisis in India is dominating the agenda in Britain, Boris Johnson opened the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session of Parliament with a message of solidarity with India and highlighted that discussions remain ongoing with the Indian government to establish further requirements. It was also highlighted that Britain was the first country to deliver support on the ground.
“We are supporting India with vital medical equipment and we will continue to work closely with the Indian authorities to determine what further help they may need,” said Johnson.
The Opposition Labour Party also focused to the “humanitarian disaster” the world is witnessing in India and called for more support by way of the urgent question tabled by shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy.
“The domestic tragedy engulfing India is now of such a scale that it constitutes a global emergency. India is now afflicted with at least 40 per cent of all new cases in the world, more than 2 million have been confirmed in the last week alone and the peak of this crisis may yet be weeks away,” said Nandy.
She demanded that the government “can and must do more”, including coordinating with global partners to avoid duplication of the support being offered and help with boosting vaccine manufacturing capacity by overcoming barriers to supply.
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While the focus remains very much on the Covid crisis, the UK government was also quick to highlight that 2021 remains and important year for the bilateral partnership.
Nigel Adams told Parliament: “India is a key partner for the UK. Regretfully the Prime Minister had to cancel his visit this week but now has plans to speak to Prime Minister Modi via videolink in a coming period to take forward key deliverables across trade, defence, climate change, health and migration.”
He also pointed to a schedule meeting between Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UK-hosted G7 summit in June and a related FCDO meeting of Foreign Ministers coming up next week.
“Subject to the COVID-19 situation in India there may also be an opportunity for the PM to visit India in person later in the year,” he said.