India has been setting daily records for new infections almost every day for the last week or so and reported more than two million infections in the last week. See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 16, updated 29 April 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases; European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/data-national-14-day-notification-rate-covid-19 (week 15, 1,534,202 new cases reported; week 16, 2,056,121 new cases reported). Thus, India is the first country to record more than two million cases in a single week and the second to record more than three million in a two week period (the United States exceeded three million during the two weeks 50 and 51 of 2020). With total cases reported by India of 17,118,040, India has the second largest number of cases after the United States (32,125,099) but has a population more than four times that of the United States. However, press reports suggest that information on COVID-19 cases and deaths in India are substantially underreported, perhaps representing only 10-20% of actual cases and deaths. See, e.g., New York Times, As Covid-19 Devastates India, Deaths Go Undercounted, April 24, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-deaths.html.
What is clear is that India is being overwhelmed at the present time with India’s health care system struggling to handle the huge number of people needing assistance, with many hospitals unable to handle the case load, with acute shortages reported on oxygen, ICU beds and much more. See, e.g., The Financial Times, Editorial Board, The tragedy of India’s second wave, April 26, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/90281790-fb9e-468c-b3fa-c7549bd3bb39 (“The suffering of the Indian people in the country’s second wave of Covid-19 is a human tragedy on a vast scale. It is also a warning, and a danger, for the world. Many nations have been through dark times in the global pandemic; several with smaller populations still have higher death tolls. But with reports of people dying in the streets outside overwhelmed hospitals running short of oxygen, India today perhaps most closely resembles the worst-case scenarios painted when the virus was identified 16 months ago.”); New York Times, ‘This Is a Catastrophe.’ In India, Illness Is Everywhere, April 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/world/asia/India-delhi-covid-cases.html. The extent of human suffering from people not able to obtain timely care has been described by the Director-General of the World Health Organization as “beyond heartbreaking”. World Health Organization, Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 26 April 2021, 26 April 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-26-april-2021.
Many countries, the WHO and business organizations and others are scrambling to provide assistance to India. See, e.g., MENAFN, Euronews, EU, UK and US offer support as COVID-19 ‘swallowing’ people in India, 27 April 2021, https://menafn.com/1101987528/EU-UK-and-US-Offer-Support-as-COVID-19-Swallowing-People-in-India; Politico, Von der Leyen: EU preparing ‘rapid’ assistance to COVID-hit India, April 26, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-india-coronavirus-crisis-variant-asia-ursula-von-der-leyen/; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, India COVID Crisis: How Businesses Can Help, April 27, 2021, https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/india-covid-crisis-how-businesses-can-help; Reuters, WHO steps up aid to India to stem COVID surge, 27 April 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/rush-hospitals-big-gatherings-worsen-india-covid-crisis-who-2021-04-27/..
In the United States, the Biden Administration has indicated it is providing assistance and yesterday released a fact sheet on actions being taken. See White House Briefing Room, FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Delivers Emergency COVID-19 Assistance for India, April 28, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-delivers-emergency-covid-19-assistance-for-india/. The fact sheet is copied below.
“Reflecting the United States’ solidarity with India as it battles a new wave of COVID-19 cases, the United States is delivering supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India. In addition, U.S. state governments, private companies, non-government organizations, and thousands of Americans from across the country have mobilized to deliver vital oxygen, related equipment, and essential supplies for Indian hospitals to support frontline health care workers and the people of India most affected during the current outbreak. U.S. Government assistance flights will start arriving in India on Thursday, April 29 and will continue into next week.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.
“Immediate U.S. Emergency COVID-19 Assistance
“The United States is providing:
“- Oxygen Support: An initial delivery of 1,100 cylinders will remain in India and can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centers, with more planeloads to come. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also locally procured oxygen cylinders and will deliver them to support hospital systems in coordination with the Government of India.
“- Oxygen Concentrators: 1700 oxygen concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air, these mobile units provide options for flexible patient treatment.
“- Oxygen Generation Units (PSA Systems): Multiple large-scale units to support up to 20 patients each, and additional mobile units will provide an ability to target specific shortages. A team of U.S. experts will support these units, working hand-in-hand on the ground with Indian medical personnel.
“- Personal Protective Equipment: 15 million N95 masks to protect both patients and Indian health care personnel.
“- Vaccine-Manufacturing Supplies: The U.S. has re-directed its own order of Astra Zeneca manufacturing supplies to India. This will allow India to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
“- Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs): 1 million rapid diagnostic tests – the same type used by the White House — to provide reliable results in less than 15 minutes to help identify and prevent community spread.
“- Therapeutics: The first tranche of a planned 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug remdesivir to help treat hospitalized patients.
“- Public Health Assistance: U.S. CDC experts will work hand-in- hand with India’s experts in the following areas: laboratory, surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modeling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication.
“U.S. Support for India from the Outset of the Pandemic
“The United States and India have closely worked together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. COVID-19 assistance has reached more than 9.7 million Indians across more than 20 states and union territories, providing life-saving treatments, disseminating public health messages to local communities; strengthening case-finding and surveillance; and mobilizing innovative financing mechanisms to bolster emergency preparedness:
“- Partnered with more than 1,000 Indian healthcare facilities to strengthen preparedness, including training of over 14,000 people on infection prevention and control.
“- Helped keep more than 213,000 frontline workers safe — including risk mitigation training for doctors, nurses, midwives, community volunteers, sanitation workers, and others who are actively responding to COVID-19 in India.
“- Launched joint public messaging with UNICEF on COVID prevention that has reached more than 84 million people.
“- Provided 200 state-of-the-art ventilators to 29 healthcare facilities in 15 states to care for critically-ill COVID-19 patients.
“U.S.-India Health Partnership: Seven Decades Strong
“- For seventy years, U.S. public health experts from across the government, including USAID, HHS, CDC, FDA, and NIH, have worked in partnership with Indian officials to improve the health of India’s most vulnerable communities and the well-being of its people.
“- Over the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance to India has exceeded $2.8 billion, including more than $1.4 billion for health care.
“- The United States, India, and other partners have worked together to reduce new HIV infections by 37 percent between 2010 and 2019.
“- Since 1998, the United States and India have worked together to combat tuberculosis (TB) through improved patient-centered diagnosis, treatment and prevention, helping treat 15 million people with the disease.
“- In the last five years, the United States has helped 40 million pregnant women receive vital health information and services.
“- The United States, in partnership with the Government of India and World Health Organization, has supported initiatives at the District, State and National level to build frontline disease detection capacity.
“- The United States and India are working together to advance global health security and fight outbreaks before they become pandemics.”
India is a critical part of the global effort to vaccinate the world both with vaccines developed within India and with vaccines (e.g., AstraZeneca and Novavax) that are licensed for production in India with large commitments to supply COVAX for distribution to low- and middle-income countries and with other vaccines licensed from other countries (China and Russia). The immediate challenges in India has shifted the focus of the Indian government and its vaccine producers to supply almost exclusively for the Indian market while India struggles through the current surge in new cases and hospitalizations. The focus of the world on the need to help India is an interesting departure from the discussion of vaccine distribution based on population that has dominated focus through March.
Many parts of the world have been able to keep the COVID-19 pandemic under control to a large extent and hence have relatively few COVID-19 cases. Other countries — the U.S., India, Brazil, the EU countries and UK — have had far less success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and have recorded very large numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
In a prior post, I reviewed that if one looks at percent of vaccinations compared to the percent of COVID-19 cases, there has been better matching for many countries (U.S., EU, UK, India) while a few major vaccine producers have much larger vaccinations as a percent of global vaccinations compared to the share of global COVID-19 cases they have. See April 18, 2021, WTO’s April 14th virtual meeting to review COVID-19 vaccine availability, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/18/wtos-april-14th-virtual-meeting-to-review-covid-19-vaccine-availability/.
Looking at current data, China has achieved the largest number of vaccinations — 235,976,000 vaccinations or 21.82% of global totals til April 28, 2021) — but a very low percent of global COVID-19 cases — 102,384 cases or 0.07% of global cases. The U.S. has the largest number of cases and second largest number of vaccinations (21.79% of cases; 21.69% of vaccinations). India has the second largest number of cases and the third largest number of vaccinations (11.61% of cases; 13.86% of vaccinations). The EU (27 countries) has 20.46% of COVID-19 cases (2nd largest if looking at the 27 countries together) and 12.75% of vaccinations. The United Kingdom has 2.99% of cases and 4.39% of vaccinations. Brazil has 9.75% of cases (3rd highest for an individual country) and 4.17% of vaccinations.
Both China and India are major vaccine producers and have comparable populations. But China has had only 0.6% of the COVID-19 cases that India has had, but has 157.45% of the vaccinations that India has accomplished. Vaccination data is from Bloomberg, More than 1.08 Billion Shots Given: Cover-19 Tracker, updated April 28, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.
The problems India is facing are daunting and emphasize the need for the global community to respond to emergencies as they arise while global production of vaccines continue to ratchet up in the coming months. That doesn’t mean that efforts to roll out vaccines to all countries is not an important initiative (COVAX has now shipped more than 48 million doses to 120 countries and various countries are shipping vaccines to ow- and middle-income countries outside of COVAX). But pandemics do not wreak havoc uniformly across the world. Fires need to be addressed urgently while capacities are increased to deal with all needs. The last several weeks have shown India to be suffering such a “fire”. Diverting resources from other parts of the world to India makes sense at the moment. Brazil’s fire continues as well and undoubtedly needs more attention.
While vaccines will help get the world out of the pandemic, all countries need to be vigilant on the non-vaccine tools available to minimize the spread of the pandemic within markets until there is sufficient vaccine capacity to address all needs — capacity that should be here by the end of 2021.
Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
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