New Delhi: India was there for the American people in their hour of need and the United States will be there for the country as it meets its worst-ever public health crisis, President Joe Biden said after his phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two leaders spoke on Monday even as the Biden administration swung into action to provide assistance to India in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The urgent help announced by the White House ranged from oxygen supplies, raw materials for COVID-19 vaccines, critical life-saving drugs to PPEs.
“India was there for us, and we will be there for them,” Biden said in a tweet soon after his phone call with Modi.
This was the second telephonic conversation between the two leaders after Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20.
“Today, I spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pledged America’s full support to provide emergency assistance and resources in the fight against COVID-19,” Biden said.
The call between the two leaders is believed to have lasted for about 45 minutes. During the call, Biden is understood to have offered all help that India needs in this hour of crisis.
“The president pledged America’s steadfast ongoing support for the people of India, who have been impacted by the recent surge in the COVID-19 cases,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference.
At India’s request, the United States is exploring options to provide oxygen and related supplies. The Department of Defence and USAID are pursuing options to provide oxygen generation systems.
“We may be in a position to reroute shipments plan further countries with lower immediate needs given the urgency of the conditions in India, and we’ll have more details, hopefully, on the possibility soon,” she said.
The Department of Defence, she said, is also exploring providing field oxygen generation systems, which the United States has used in its field medical hospitals.
Each unit can provide oxygen for up to 50 to 100 beds. The administration is also exploring options to provide oxygen concentrators and ventilators and are in technical discussions with India to ensure the equipment that the US supplies can connect to Indian devices, the official added.
According to the White House’s transcript of the press briefing after the call, India did not make a specific request for vaccines. When asked about the surplus 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines the US has and whether those would be sent to other countries, the official said no decision has been taken yet.
“The United States has already provided 200 ventilators to India last year and trained medical professionals on their use, so this is of course in addition to that and other assistance we have provided,” Psaki said.
“Another one of the major needs is PPE, and we have identified US commercial suppliers as well. We have identified US commercial suppliers of remdesivir that are immediately available to help relieve the suffering of COVID-19 patients in India,” she said.
India has submitted a list of seven essential items that it needs on an urgent basis. These are oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders with 10 litre and 45 litre capacity, oxygen generators, oxygen generation plants, remdesivir, faviprivir and tocilizumab.
Psaki said the US has identified rapid diagnostic testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and additional ventilators available to be transferred to India immediately.
The US is in close touch with India officials at all levels about the raw material needs that they have, she added.
“As requested by India, we will provide raw materials for the production of AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at Serum Institute of India. I know some of these have been announced, but that’s just a little bit of additional details. So, we’re and ongoing discussions about what their needs are and how we can meet them,” she said.
Responding to a question, Psaki said that the United States has been one of the largest providers of assistance to address the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, including to India.
“We have obviously taken some significant steps over the last couple of days to address their immediate needs and been in close touch with them at every level, including with prime minister and the president discussing or, communicating,” she said.
India and the United States, she noted, have two of the highest challenges as it relates to fighting the COVID pandemic so we also take that into account.
“But I can assure people who are watching and paying attention that we want to work in partnership with India. We are committed to getting them assistance they need, whether that’s oxygen, PPE, therapeutics, tests, raw materials for vaccines, and we’ll continue to communicate at the highest level,” Psaki said.
(With PTI inputs)