Europe, US pledge rapid aid to India to contain spiralling Covid-19 crisis

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The European Union, the United States and Britain have announced emergency measures to aid India as soaring new Covid-19 infections continue to set record highs, sparking fears over the spread of a new "double mutant" variant.

The European Union has mobilised its Emergency Response Coordination Center to provide oxygen and medicine to India.

On Sunday, the world’s most populous country posted its highest single-day increase for the fourth day in a row, announcing 350,000 new cases as hospitals struggle to cope. India has a total of 16.96 million cases, including 192,311 deaths, according to its health ministry on Sunday.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday that the EU was ready to help India, whose rising Covid-19 cases are blamed in part due to a new "double mutant" variant, the B.1.617 genome which was first reported to the global database (GISAID) in October.

In late March, India's health ministry said the variant appeared in 15-20 percent of samples analysed from Maharashtra, the hardest-hit state in the country. Now, the figure is at 60 percent.

India is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, wrote Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post.

He said 2,000 people were dying daily, but most experts estimated that due to under-reporting, the death toll was five to 10 times that level.

Britain said it would be shipping more than 600 pieces of equipment, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators to New Delhi after receiving requests for equipment from India.

"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,” according to a statement released from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday.

Britain's Foreign Office said the first shipment was going out on Sunday and would arrive in New Delhi by early Tuesday morning, with more shipments following.

The Foreign Office, which is funding the emergency shipments, said nine airline containers of supplies are going there which includes 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators.

"The UK is working closely with the Government of India to identify further assistance it can provide in the coming days," it added.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel also went on social media to declare that Germany is preparing an urgent support mission to India, adding that Germany stands in solidarity with India.

The United States said it was going to help India as well, but a spokesperson said the aid was still being mobilised.

The US Chamber of Commerce on Friday called on the Biden administration to send millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses in storage to India, Brazil and other hard-hit countries.

India variant means travel bans

While countries are trying to help India, they are also taking measures to prevent it from spreading in their countries. The UK, US, Canada, and Israel have already banned travel to and from India, and Italy announced Sunday it would be banning passengers coming from India.

“We cannot let our guard down,” Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, as national Covid-19 restrictions were beginning to ease on Monday.

His German counterpart Jens Spahn said on Saturday that only German citizens would be able to travel from India.