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With first tranche of supplies having landed, the FCDO is set to dispatch a total of 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, with plans being drafted for further assistance based on requirements on the ground.
“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,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, just as the first tranche of the UK’s assistance package landed in New Delhi this week.
“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,” he declared.
The assistance package, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), follows a request from India and in total will cover nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, with plans being drafted for further assistance based on requirements on the ground.
The UK government said its Department of Health and Social Care worked closely with the National Health Service (NHS), as well as suppliers and manufacturers in the UK, to identify reserve medical equipment from surplus stocks that can be transported to India.
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UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We are supporting our Indian friends with vital medical equipment at a difficult time for them in this pandemic.
“We have all got to work together to tackle Covid-19. India is a very important partner to us, so we’re providing oxygen concentrators and ventilators to help save the lives of the most vulnerable. We will be following up on this first delivery with further support, based on our ongoing discussions with the Indian government.”
He followed that up with a phone call with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who said the two ministers took the opportunity to discuss the close cooperation between the two countries to address different aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic challenge.
“Also reviewed progress in our bilateral agenda,” said Jaishankar.
The FCDO said the equipment destined for India will be crucial in helping to save the lives of many vulnerable people. The oxygen concentrators can extract oxygen from the air in the atmosphere so that it can be provided to patients, taking the strain off hospital oxygen systems and allowing oxygen to be provided in situations where hospital oxygen supplies have run out.
The department said the government continues to work with the Indian government to identify further assistance it can provide in the coming days, describing it as the latest example of UK-India collaboration during the course of the pandemic.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The heart-breaking scenes in India show once again how awful this terrible disease is. We are determined to support the people of India through this very difficult time, and I am hugely grateful to those who have worked hard to make this initial delivery happen.
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“This first delivery of life-saving equipment will provide much needed assistance and we stand ready to do more. The global pandemic has challenged health systems all across the world and the best way to overcome adversity is to unite and defeat this dreadful disease together.”
The focus at the moment is on expediting a constant flow of the equipment required immediately on the ground in the most efficient way, UK government sources said.
In the longer term, discussions are ongoing to coordinate the response across government departments, the High Commissions of both countries and Indian diaspora groups in Britain to address the needs and requirements in India.
The delivery of the assistance package coincides with the week set aside for Boris Johnson’s visit to India during which his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi were to pave the way to an Enhanced Trade Partnership.
A virtual dialogue between the two leaders had subsequently been scheduled for early May, which could be rescheduled if the unfolding situation demands.
Meanwhile, Downing Street indicated that as the UK is currently moving through its domestic priority lists for Covid-19 vaccinations, no surplus doses could be spared for other countries in need such as India. However, the situation is being kept under review.
“We committed in February to sending excess doses from the UK’s supply to the COVAX procurement pool and to countries in need, once they are available,” the UK PM’s spokesperson said.
“Right now we are moving through the UK prioritisation list for our domestic rollout and don’t have surplus doses, but we keep this under constant review. We recognise that no one is safe until we’re all safe in this pandemic which is why the UK has contributed £548 million to COVAX and sent vital medical supplies to India,” the spokesperson said.
The COVAX facility refers to the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access global initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organisation (WHO).