India demonstrates the need for international cooperation in the fight against COVID-19

The Asian country now has more than 17 million cases and 195,000 deaths
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AFP/JEWEL SAMAD  -   Burning pyres of victims who lost their lives to the Covid-19 coronavirus at a cremation ground in New Delhi on 26 April 2021

India is going through one of the biggest health crises in its history. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the world's health and economic systems on the ropes in an unprecedented health crisis. This situation has forced governments around the world to take measures against the clock in order to mitigate the effects of a virus that continues to generate uncertainty and doubt.

In this crisis, the countries that have been hardest hit are those in the developing world because of their limited capacity for political and, in this case, health management. The fragility of this situation has forced countries around the world to rethink new ways of living and coexisting. In this respect, globalisation has highlighted the role of states in cooperating with each other in terms of solidarity and humanitarian aid.

Thus, the United Kingdom has taken a step forward in response to the critical situation that India is going through after registering 350,000 cases per day, which corresponds to a third of the country's population. The UK has stated that it will "do everything possible to alleviate the suffering" and has announced the first steps it will take to help the South Asian country. First, they will send oxygen compressors and ventilators to India, vital tools to help save the lives of those suffering from respiratory illnesses caused by the virus. Second, they will supply the country with more than 600 pieces of vital medical equipment to help the country in its fight against COVID.

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AFP/MONEY SHARMA - A body lies among the burning pyres of victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi on April 26, 2021

With a population of 1.3 billion, India is unable to maintain free beds and free oxygen tanks in hospitals. This population overflow and the uncontrollable spread of the virus has led to cities where dead bodies are piling up in the streets. In New Delhi, the capital, mass cremations are taking place, while other cities have begun to cut down trees for lack of wood for cremations.

The question now is whether British aid is enough to bring the situation back on track. Countries such as China and the United States have spoken out over the last few days to show their support for the Indian population by sending medical supplies to bolster the country's hospitals. In this regard, US President Joe Biden made clear the US position in this crisis by stating that the US is "determined to help India in its time of need" by providing vaccines, tests, ventilators and protective equipment. It is worth noting that India has only two models of vaccines: Covaxin, developed locally at the Indian laboratory Bharat Biotech, and Covishield, a vaccine produced under a UK-India agreement under the formula of the British-Swedish laboratory AstraZeneca.

The United Arab Emirates has also reached out in this regard to stem India's second wave. In this regard, an Indian Air Force transport plane was sent to Dubai to transport seven containers of cryogenic vacuum oxygen. An Emirati official told the Gulf Mail that, "after receiving the cargo, the aircraft will take off for Panagarh in West Bengal and is likely to arrive there by 5.30 p.m.".

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AP/ALTAF QADRI - Delhi has been cremating so many bodies of coronavirus victims that authorities are receiving requests to start cutting down trees in the city's parks as a second record surge has brought India's ailing health system to its knees

India currently accounts for 40 per cent of reported coronavirus infections worldwide. This has caused the hospital system to collapse and has led to the population in dire straits as infected people are dying daily on the doorsteps of hospitals for lack of oxygen and medicines. This aspect has forced New Delhi to inform that they will maintain the territorial blockade until 3 May.

The question now is how India has reached such an extreme situation. According to the journal Nature, what is happening may be the consequence of multiple factors ranging from low vaccination rates to mass social events where no measures have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID. Last January, the country could report fewer than 15,000 infections per day, but with the arrival of spring, Hindu festivals spread across the country. With the celebration of these festivals, the crowds flocked and congregated without respecting any social distance, which was the ideal breeding ground for the spread of the virus. An example of this is the Kumbh Bela celebration in the city of Haridwar, which was attended by an estimated 25 million people. 

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AFP/AFP - Covid-19 cases and deaths per day in India up to 27 April

Added to this is what is already known as a new variant of the virus with Indian hallmarks, a new unknown strain dubbed the "double mutant" that many blame for its high mortality rate. Concern about the "double mutant" is latent because vaccines may not be effective against it as they are designed to create antibodies that target the unmutated protein of the virus and may be ineffective against the new variant.

In this regard, several countries have already announced bans on entry to the country for those who have been in India in the last 14 days. Italy was the latest country to adopt this policy, followed by New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States, which have already banned flights to India.

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REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI - Family members mourn after a man is pronounced dead outside the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital amid the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India, April 23, 2021

In the face of what has been declared a humanitarian crisis, Prime Minister Modi has already announced a mass vaccination plan to immunise everyone between the ages of 18 from 1 May, regardless of age groups. The aim is to vaccinate 900 million people as soon as possible. India has already inoculated 100 million doses in the last three months, so to reach the ambitious figure proposed by the minister, health measures are urgently needed in the area of international cooperation to curb an overwhelming situation in which corpses are piling up on crematoria pyres and hospitals are agonising in the face of a shortage of vital health resources.

In this situation, international aid has begun to act and it seems that different countries will cooperate globally to eradicate the Indian crisis in a context where, according to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, "the global pandemic has challenged health systems around the world and the best way to overcome adversity is to unite and defeat this terrible disease together".