An Indian-American Democratic lawmaker on Monday welcomed the US government’s decision to provide material and healthcare help to India in its fight against a spike in COVID-19 cases, but said this is “no time for symbolism” or “lip service” and the Joe Biden administration must act now.
India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals in several states are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.
“The Biden administration’s commitment that it will export raw materials for the Indian manufacturer of the Covishield vaccine is a welcome decision,” Indian American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi said.
“However, this is no time for symbolism, half-measures or lip service. We must act now,” he asserted.
The Biden administration had come under criticism from several quarters, including from members and supporters of the Democratic Party, for not releasing surplus COVID-19 vaccines to India when the country was experiencing its worst-ever public health crisis. India had urged the US to supply the raw materials for manufacturing the Covishield vaccine.
Following the criticism, US National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan in a telephonic call with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Sunday affirmed America”s solidarity with India.
After the phone call, Emily Horne, spokesperson of the US NSA, underlined that America is “working around the clock” to deploy available resources and supplies and has “identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacturer of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India”.
Mr Krishnamoorthi, who is also the chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, said it is imperative that the US government double down on its commitment by exporting these materials expeditiously, by opening its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines currently sitting unused on shelves.
He said the US government should also follow the actions of other countries this weekend by shipping medical supplies, including oxygen concentrators, to help treat COVID-19 victims in India and other nations hardest-hit by the deadly virus.
India logged a record of 3,52,991 new coronavirus infections in a day on Monday, taking its total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,73,13,163. The death count increased to 1,95,123 with a record 2,812 daily new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data.
“The Lend-Lease Act of World War II states that America could lend or lease supplies to any nation deemed vital to the defence of the US. This is no different. We are fighting a war together with India, Argentina and others. We can only defeat COVID-19 by defeating it everywhere. Our success in ending this pandemic hinges on the leadership of the US and our ability to help allies in need,” said Krishnamoorthi, who also serves on the House Oversight Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Meanwhile, Ro Khanna, another Democratic Indian American Congressman, said international cooperation and humanitarian assistance are the hallmarks of a truly progressive foreign policy.
“In the face of apocalyptic numbers of COVID-19 cases and new variants exploding in India, I applaud the Biden administration’s decision to put people over profits and provide additional Personal Protective Equipment, oxygen and other medical supplies to India,” he said.
Mr Khanna said he is pleased to see the USAID’s (United States Agency for International Development) work with the the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to expedite the mobilisation of emergency resources for India through the Global Fund.
“This must be done with the utmost speed and urgency,” he said, adding that the Biden administration can still do more, like give India its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines that won’t be used in the US.
The government should facilitate the Indian community in America to help assist hospitals in India. It can also call on Pfizer and Moderna to provide an intellectual property waiver for six months to a year as India grapples with this health crisis, Mr Khanna said.
“The White House should also convene Indian business leaders to make the case for why this is in these companies” long-term strategic interest. Many Indian American business leaders such as Vinod Khosla are happy to make the case to them why this is a good business decision,” he said.
The Democratic lawmaker noted that Khosla has committed to financially help any hospitals in India in need of supplies and will also be speaking with the India Caucus leadership to discuss what else can be done to assist.
“This is a very tough time for the Indian people and underscores the continued threat of COVID-19. These new strains of the virus are gravely alarming and could pose a threat here in America and across the globe if we do not do all we can to contain the virus and its new variants,” Mr Khanna said.
US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy said the aid extended by the US to India includes raw material for vaccine production, therapeutics, rapid diagnostic kits, ventilators, oxygen generation and related supplies, financial support for vaccine manufacturing expansion and deployment of American public health teams.
“This is an important step forward,” Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said, thanking Joe Biden for recognising that “our fates” are all tied together.