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Biden Scrambles Helps India Evaluate COVID-19

April 26, 2021, 4:54 p.m.

For weeks as India's coronavirus cases began to rise and then suddenly skyrocketed, dozens of countries from around the world offered sympathy and pledges of help. From the United States – at least publicly – India only got radio silence. This led to a nationwide tale in India of the United States abandoning one of its key partners in Asia at a time of greatest need.

Now President Joe Biden's administration is trying to undo the damage. She has posted numerous calls to Indian colleagues in the past few days promising to reroute resources and vaccine production supplies to help India cope with a near vertical surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on Monday, and the United States pledged to provide therapeutics, raw materials for vaccines and oxygen – all of which are extremely scarce in India. The government also announced plans to release 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas. Over the weekend, Biden's National Safety Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart and promised to supply India with personal protective equipment, ventilators and test kits.

"Just as India sent aid to the United States as our hospitals were congested at the start of the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its need," said Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, in a statement following Sullivan's appeal .

There are two main factors that will determine the Biden government's response to the crisis in India. First and foremost there is the public health crisis, which has resulted in nearly 200,000 deaths in India and weighed on the already overloaded health system there, particularly the availability of oxygen and vaccines. Public health experts warn that the surge could, in certain cases, encourage the spread of new, deadlier strains of the coronavirus that could rapidly spread beyond India's borders.

The second layer is more geopolitical. The Biden government is rushing to parry charges that it is hoarding vaccines and not doing enough to help New Delhi deal with the country's public health crisis. Modi's government is being pushed back by some political factions as it seeks to strengthen ties with the United States as part of Washington’s efforts to counter China. With that in mind, U.S. officials and lawmakers are eager to help America's allies and partners in their fight against the coronavirus to flex U.S. soft power muscles overseas.

“This is one of the first great tests of America's global leadership in this new era. Every national security expert across the political spectrum says America's strategic strengths (particularly with respect to China) are our allies and partners. Then we have to make that happen, ”said Democratic MP Andy Kim, a former diplomat Twitter. "Let us be clear that China and Russia have used their vaccines to gain worldwide favor. The US is the strongest country in the world when we lead by our values, but our values ​​mean nothing without action."

One of the first major U.S. actions is about vaccines. Although the US has not yet released vaccines from its supply to India, including tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that is not approved for public use in the US, that could soon change. On Monday, Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor to the White House tweeted that the United States would transfer 60 million AstraZeneca cans to other countries as soon as they became available.

The United States could face increased international pressure to ship vaccine doses overseas, given the manufacturing capacity it has amassed over the past year. The United States has received more than 550 million excess doses of vaccine, according to a recent report study from the ONE Campaign, a global health promotion organization. A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters on Monday that about 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be ready for shipment in the coming weeks and about 50 million doses could follow in various stages of production in the coming months.

The official stressed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must ensure that all U.S. cans meet quality control standards before they are sent overseas. "Because of this process, contrary to what some may have heard, there are currently no AstraZeneca cans that have completed and cleared this process to be sent to other countries," the official said.

"The Biden government's decision to begin distributing AstraZeneca vaccines is welcome news and an important first step in helping the US share more of its massive vaccine supply," said Tom Hart, acting CEO of the ONE campaign , in a statement. "The Biden government should build on this welcome first step and exchange more vaccines as soon as possible."

As vaccination rates in the US have risen in recent months, India reported 352,991 new cases on Monday, the world's highest daily case count, pushing the total number of cases over 5 million a month – a number some may still fear undercounting. Short oxygen supplies in large hospitals and supply backlogs have also hampered the response. The rise in the pandemic has also led to crackdown on freedom of expression in India with the government censorship Some Twitter posts criticize the answer.

The surge has also put US government employees in India at CNN at risk reporting On Monday, a local outbreak caused by Indian staff at the embassy in New Delhi resulted in more than 100 cases among diplomats and staff.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned In a recent statement published in the New York Times that affluent countries hoarding global vaccine supplies will only exacerbate the effects of the pandemic.

"(H) Here's the thing about an inferno: if you hose down just part of it, the rest of it will keep burning," he wrote.

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