More aid being sent to India as minister says Covid crisis there is ‘harrowing’

Joe Gammie, PA
·4-min read

The UK is sending more vital oxygen equipment to India, with ministers describing the spiralling coronavirus crisis there as “harrowing”.

The Foreign Office said that three oxygen generation units the size of shipping containers will be sent from surplus stocks in Northern Ireland to help the country tackle the virus.

Each units is capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute, enough for 50 people to use at a time, it added.

It follows the UK sending 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators to the country, with the first shipment arriving in Delhi on Tuesday.

India’s coronavirus death toll stands at more than 200,000 lives lost, with reports of Indian hospitals overrun and severe shortages of oxygen supplies.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the situation in India as “harrowing”.

The Cabinet minister told a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: “We’ve all seen the harrowing pictures of what is happening in India.

“I think it pains each one of us who is seeing those scenes, not least because the bonds between our countries are so strong – they are ties of family and of friendship.

“I’ve been in constant contact with my Indian counterpart and we’ve worked across the weekend to put together our first package of support of ventilators and oxygen concentrators.”

Mr Hancock said the worsening situation in India emphasised the pandemic was not yet over and how important it was for people to remain “vigilant” in the UK.

He added: “Everyone across this whole United Kingdom stands side-by-side with the people of India in these troubled times, because in this battle against coronavirus we are all on the same side – this fight is a global fight,” the Health Secretary told a Downing Street briefing.

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“And when other nations face their hour of need, as we’ve faced our hour of need here at home, we’ll be there.

“The situation in India is a stark reminder that this isn’t over yet.

“It shows how important it is that we are vigilant here at home.”

When asked if a new order of millions of Pfizer jabs could be given to struggling countries like India, Mr Hancock said: “The truth is that the 60 million Pfizer jabs, they have not been manufactured, this is a forward order so it is not that they are there now in our PHE [Pubic Health England] freezers ready to roll out.

“But the situation in India is that they obviously have a vaccination programme which is largely driven by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being produced in India.

“We obviously work very closely with them to ensure they have access to that vaccine at cost.”

Meanwhile, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which brings together a number of UK organisations, has extended its Coronavirus appeal to include India.

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Organisations, including the Indian Red Cross, ActionAid, Oxfam India and Save the Children, will help support the country’s health system by providing PPE, disinfection kits, medical supplies and ambulances, and setting up isolation facilities.

Member charities will also create temporary Covid hospitals and care centres, as well as provide ventilators and oxygen concentrators to the Indian government.

Save the Children has also warned that millions of children in India risk being pushed into poverty and hunger due to the surge in Covid cases.

The charity said children might be forced to drop out of school and find work to supplement lost family incomes and those out of school run a higher risk of falling victim to forms of abuse such as child marriage, child labour and exploitation.

Sudarshan Suchi, chief executive of Save the Children in India, said: “As the crisis in India continues to spiral out of control, its impact on children is growing ever more serious.

“The surge in Covid-19 infections is forcing strict lockdown measures that have left many families without a source of income, pulling millions of children below the poverty line, and the poorest into even deeper poverty.”