Oxygen shortage | Global response to India’s call for help

Cryogenic oxygen tanks airlifted from Singapore; UAE, EU, Russia and Saudi Arabia sending supplies.

April 24, 2021 07:52 pm | Updated April 25, 2021 07:54 am IST - NEW DELHI

A C-17 aircraft of the IAF being loaded with liquid Oxygen containers at the Changi airport in Singapore, and headed for Panagrah Air Base, to meet the shortage of medical oxygen for COVID-19 patients in India.

A C-17 aircraft of the IAF being loaded with liquid Oxygen containers at the Changi airport in Singapore, and headed for Panagrah Air Base, to meet the shortage of medical oxygen for COVID-19 patients in India.

Four cryogenic oxygen tanks were airlifted by the Indian Air Force from Singapore, in the first such import a day after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar put out an appeal for international assistance for India’s ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The tanks, used for the transportation of oxygen, were brought from Singapore's Changi Airport on an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17 which landed on Saturday at Panagarh air base in West Bengal. “We stand with India in its fight against Covid-19,” Singapore’s Embassy in New Delhi said in a statement, calling it a “bilateral and multi-agency effort.” About 80MT of liquid oxygen are also expected to be flown to India from a company in Saudi Arabia, the Indian Embassy in Riyadh announced.

The effort comes more than two weeks after oxygen shortages were reported across the country, and led to criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis. The government is now coordinating a multi-pronged approach to ramp up oxygen availability from abroad, including tapping embassies in countries where they can be sourced, speaking to governments to waive regulatory delays, and ensuring no disruptions in supply chains, diplomats and officials said. However, the government is only seeking foreign government facilitation, not foreign aid for India’s needs, they said.

While shipping in liquid oxygen is not seen as feasible at present, embassy officials are coordinating with suppliers for oxygen generators, industrial and individual concentrators as well as cryogenic tankers. Apart from Singapore, the United Arab Emirates government is also coordinating with Indian Embassy officials for the transfer of oxygen tankers, and the European Union and Russia are expected to send both oxygen-related and pharmaceutical supplies.

Among those offering support, Pakistan’s Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation, a charity group, also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering 50 ambulances and emergency staff.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed “solidarity with the people of India as they battle a dangerous wave of COVID-19.”

“We must fight this global challenge confronting humanity together,” Mr. Khan added.

On Friday evening, Mr. Jaishankar held a virtual meeting along with Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Indian Ambassadors to Germany, European Union and United States and several executives from multinational pharmaceutical and vaccine companies to discuss bottlenecks with supply chains for India.

“The world must support India, as India helps the world,” Mr. Jaishankar tweeted, in a message believed to be meant for the US administration and other countries who are holding up exports of Covid-related supplies in order to prioritise domestic requirements.

In particular, the government is also worried about a shortfall in vaccine production due to regulatory issues, including from Germany, where many of the pharma companies are based.

“We will continue working with German partners to resolve supply chain bottlenecks faced by companies manufacturing Covid vaccine and medicines. India’s uninterrupted vaccine production capacity is central to the success of global vaccination efforts and global economic recovery,” the German Embassy said in a statement.

The government has not placed an export ban on Indian-made vaccines at present, but it is understood to have stopped shipments for the moment, and the last consignments went out more than a week ago on April 16, to Albania and Syria.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy in Berlin also issued a statement directing those offering contributions and donations to send them to the Indian Red Cross, not the government, as officials said that India’s policy of not accepting foreign aid has not changed in the present situation.

(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)

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