Will the U.S. help India now that it’s descending into COVID chaos?

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Photo via M M/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The COVID-19 case numbers in India are bringing the nation of 1.3 billion people to what one public health expert termed a “humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of us.” The United States is now poised to help India with its surge in COVID cases. 

As Reuters reported, a Biden administration spokesperson indicated on April 24 that the U.S. would come to India’s assistance in dealing with the crisis. 

“We are in active conversations at high levels and plan to quickly deploy additional support to the government of India and Indian health care workers as they battle this latest severe outbreak. We will have more to share very soon,” the spokeswoman said in an email responding to a Reuters inquiry. 

This comes as organizations within the U.S. are calling for the government to do more. On April 23, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggested the Biden administration should release its stockpile of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to India, Brazil, and other nations hard hit by the latest wave of cases. 

Brown University School of Public Health’s Ashish K. Jha, writing in the Washington Post, noted, “India, the world’s largest democracy, is now the epicenter of the pandemic and on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Hospitals in the capital city of New Delhi have run out of oxygen. Officially, about 2,000 people are dying daily, but most experts estimate that the true number is five to 10 times that.” 

In a tweet Jha sent out April 20, he characterized the surging case numbers as a “humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of us” and indicated that “neglect, poor messaging, worse policy, [and] false belief that India had beaten COVID” were all contributing factors. 

The editorial included an indication that the U.S. could specifically help. He wrote, “India desperately needs supplies, most urgently oxygen. The Modi government recently announced its intention to buy 50,000 metric tons of liquid oxygen. It might not be enough. The United States has production capacity and can help get more oxygen delivered to India.” 

The Reuters report noted that, according to a spokesman at the Indian Embassy in Washington, officials from India and the U.S. are in talks for cooperation.  

That corresponds with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying on April 23 that U.S. and Indian officials were working to find ways to help address the crisis. She noted, according to Reuters, “The United States has already provided India some $1.4 billion in health assistance, emergency relief supplies, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators.” 

The world’s seven-day average of new cases hit 774,404 on April 25, according to the New York Times. The figure was 15% higher than just two weeks earlier and higher than the peak average of 740,390 during the last global surge in January. India, with more than 260,000 new daily cases over the past week, has more than one-third of the world’s seven-day case number average. 

CNN reported that as of April 26, India reported 352,991 new cases and 2,812 virus-related deaths, representing the single highest daily caseload for any nation five days running. The spike in cases is far greater than India’s previous peak, topping out at nearly 100,000 new cases in September 2020. 

That report added that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has come under fierce criticism within the country for its handling of the outbreak, which has seen overwhelmed hospitals and residents post pleas on social media for more supplies from state and federal officials. … Many have turned to the black market in a desperate attempt to save their loved ones.” 

Sources: Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN

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