US and India pledge stronger co-operation to fight Covid-19

India is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic and has been seeking Washington's help

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the State Department in Washington, Friday, May 28, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington is determined to help India with its coronavirus crisis.

We're united in confronting Covid-19 together

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who has spent the past week in the US seeking help amid a devastating second wave of infections at home, said that India is grateful to Washington for its support.

"In the earlier days of Covid, India was there for the US – something we will never forget," Mr Blinken said.

"And now we want to make sure that we're there for India as well."

Mr Blinken said the partnership between the two countries is "vital," "strong" and "increasingly productive".

"We're united in confronting Covid-19 together," Mr Blinken said.

He said the two countries were also united in addressing climate change, and were partnered together directly through the Quad – a four country group that also features Japan and Australia – and through UN institutions "in dealing with many of the challenges we face in the region and around the world".

India, the world's second most-populous country, this month has recorded its highest Covid-19 death toll since the pandemic began last year.

Only about 3 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated – the lowest rate among the 10 countries with the most cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has faced mounting criticism for its failure to secure Covid-19 vaccines for its people, even though India is one of the world's biggest producers of vaccines.

Indian officials have said Mr Jaishankar has been seeking supplies while in the US.

Mr Jaishankar said India was appreciative to Washington for its "strong support and solidarity at a moment of great difficulty for us".

US Acting Assistant Secretary for South Asia Dean Thompson said that vaccine manufacturing, procurement and delivery were discussed with Mr Jaishankar, but declined to give details.

He said final decisions were still pending as to where up to 80 million vaccine doses President Joe Biden has promised to send abroad would go.

Mr Thomson said the US government, state governments, US companies, and private citizens had provided more than $500 million in Covid-19 relief supplies to India.

He said assistance had included redirecting a US order of critical vaccine manufacturing supplies that would allow India to make more than 20 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

India pledged last month to fast track vaccine imports.

Its insistence on local trials and a dispute over indemnity had stalled discussions with US firm Pfizer.

But India scrapped local trials for "well-established" foreign vaccines on Thursday and a government official said Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines could arrive by July.

Mr Jaishankar met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Mr Guterres said they had a "very good discussion" on "Covid-19, the issue of vaccines and also a number of other peace and security issues in general".

US-India ties have grown closer in recent years amid shared concerns about China's rise and they have increased co-operation through the Quad.

US President Joe Biden's Indo-Pacific policy coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said on Wednesday that the Washington is looking to convene an in-person summit of leaders of the Quad in the fall, with a focus on infrastructure.

The Quad held a first virtual summit in March and pledged to work closely on Covid-19 vaccines, climate and security.