COVID-19 crisis in India | National

Several foreign embassies in Delhi face COVID-19 onslaught

An oxygen tank is loaded into an aircraft to supply hospitals in India running out of supplies amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the tarmac of Changi Airport in Singapore April 24, 2021   | Photo Credit: HIGH COMMISSION OF INDIA VIA REUTERS

A significant number of foreign diplomats in the national capital have been hit by COVID-19’s deadly second wave. The situation was brought to light on Saturday evening with the Embassy of the Philippines reaching out to the volunteers of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) seeking oxygen cylinders.

The health crisis in the diplomatic enclave has spread to several foreign missions including the New Zealand High Commission which sought help from the IYC publicly on Sunday morning triggering an online exchange between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh.

“Could you please help with oxygen cylinder urgently at the New Zealand High Commission,” the High Commission on Sunday morning asked B.V. Srinivas, national president of the IYC. The Hindu has learnt that the mission has several cases of COVID-19 out of which two are serious that require oxygen support immediately.

Tweet deleted

Interestingly, the mission’s tweet was deleted soon after it was noticed. However, volunteers of the IYC brought several oxygen cylinders to the High Commission within an hour of the appeal. “New Zealand High Commission opened the gates of the Embassy and accepted the cylinders,” said Mr. Srinivas on Twitter.

Some time later, Mr. Jaishankar took to social media to claim that the IYC had supplied oxygen in an ‘unsolicited’ manner and that the mission had “no COVID cases”. “Clearly for cheap publicity by you know who. Giving away cylinders like this when there are people in desperate need of oxygen is simply appalling,” said Mr. Jaishankar in his Twitter handle. Earlier, Mr. Ramesh had asked if the Ministry of External Affairs was ‘sleeping’ while the IYC was attending “SOS calls from foreign embassies”.

The High Commission ostensibly went public after waiting for oxygen cylinders for many hours. The mission had set up a health care unit in the premises to take care of the ailing diplomats and the support staff but the increasing number of cases has made it impossible for the unit to function without additional oxygen support, it was learnt.

The bulk of the foreign missions are located in the Chanakyapuri area of the capital where many diplomats also have their residences. Other than the Philippines, several South East Asian nations have also been impacted, it has been learnt. A significant number of staff in the Royal Thai Embassy have been affected and with critical shortage of oxygen and the ICUs in the national capital, the Embassy arranged an air ambulance two days back to repatriate their nationals, it has been learnt.

Cases in other embassies

Embassies of Singapore and Vietnam too had several cases, it has been learnt. Similarly, there have been cases in other embassies too in Delhi. The situation is bad and so some embassies have resorted to helping themselves with oxygen from whoever can give them, one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. Embassy has also come out with a public statement saying they are unable to share information about the COVID-19 situation inside the mission because of “privacy concerns” but maintained that the health and safety of its government personnel and their dependants is among the Department’s highest priorities. A spokesperson said the mission will take “all necessary measures to safeguard health and wellbeing” of the employees.

A diplomat from the Palestinian Embassy informed that both he and his wife had tested positive and were currently under medication and said there were others too who may require help. Diplomats stationed in Delhi had been part of India’s “vaccine diplomacy”. The Ministry of External Affairs took a team of diplomats to visit vaccine manufacturing facility in Hyderabad where they inspected Bharat Biotech and Biological E.

Some foreign diplomats resident in India had also taken the Covishield and Covaxin injections once the process was started in January. Ambassador Hector Cueva Jacome of Ecuador was one of the first envoys to receive the Covaxin dose on January 15.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 3:12:16 PM |

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