US army and the US state department are coordinating medication, aid, and equipment to India in an attempt to stop COVID-19 from spreading to the rest of the world. A budget of USD 100 million has been set aside. And so are 40 other countries, many NGOs, and many private companies within the country and across the world.
The ultra-rich Indians are fleeing in their private jets, as also are those who have relatives living overseas. And this includes Adar Poonawala, albeit for a totally different reason. The CEO at Serum Institute has been receiving life-threatening calls, if he “did not supply the vaccine needs of X, Y, or Z”, and these include from some of the most powerful people in the country. Manufacturers of AstraZeneca vaccines, SII had gone through its trials, manufacturing and subsequent expansion of capacity with no commitment from the Indian government. New Delhi ordered 21 million vaccines end-February 2021, and then 110 million vaccines in March 2021. Expected to procure 355 million doses per month, it has yet to place orders or give any further official communication. As COVID-19 case numbers continued to explode in the country through 2020, how difficult was it to put in large, confirmed orders with Serum, (and Pfizer, Moderna, and later, Johnson & Johnson)? In contrast, the US had ordered 400 million doses in December 2020 and 200 million more in February 2021, and the country may have 300 million excess doses by end July 2021. SII has been sued by overseas governments for, on the behest of the Indian government’s export restrictions, failing to deliver the vaccine on commercial contracts the company had started refunding governments that had placed advance orders, Poonawala is now planning setting up another plant overseas. And will be living in London for an extended time.
Over the last few years, India was finally finding its place on the global stage, getting investor attention, being heard at various international forums and looked upon as the country to back. And now, this pathetic handling of a crisis, be it by the people in the weeks-long Kumbh Mela attended by millions from all over the country or by the political parties with mass rallies held in five state elections, has tilted the balance.
Scant attention was given to the unambiguous need for urgent action recommended by the National Task Force for COVID-19 and of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country by INSACOG in early March. The Indian variant has now reached at least 17 countries including Britain, Switzerland, and Iran, leading several governments to close their borders to people travelling from India. So little value attached to life, and we are out with a begging bowl once again.
How did India ever get to this position? It would be naïve to expect that this will not have long-term repercussions for business and the country.