Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

COVID diplomacy 2.0, a different order of tasks

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Diplomatic fallout of the second covid wave

The article highlights the contrast in India’s diplomacy during the first wave of the pandemic and the second wave. It also discusses the challenges ahead for India.

India’s diplomatic structure in two Covid waves

  •  In the past month, the focus for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Missions abroad has shifted.
  • During the first wave of the pandemic, focus was on coordinating exports of COVID-19 medicines, flights to repatriate Indians abroad through the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ after the lockdown, and then exporting vaccines worldwide- ‘Vaccine Maitri’.
  • After the second wave, Covid Diplomacy 2.0 has a different order of tasks, both in the immediate and the long term.
  • The immediate imperative was to deal with oxygen and medicine shortages that claimed the lives of thousands.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs has had to deal with internal health concerns while galvanising help from abroad for others.
  • Despite difficulties, the Ministry of External Affairs has completed the task of bringing in supplies in a timely manner, and with success.

Dealing with vaccine shortage

  • Companies manufacturing AstraZeneca and Sputnik-V are stretched as far as future production is concerned.
  • The Chinese vaccines are out of consideration given bilateral tensions.
  • So, it is clear that India is looking to the U.S. to make up the shortfall.
  • This could be done in the following ways:
  • 1) Requesting the U.S. to share a substantial portion of its stockpile of AstraZeneca.
  • The U.S. government is holding up its AstraZeneca exports until its own United States Food and Drug Administration approves them.
  • 2) Asking the US to release more vaccine ingredients which are restricted for exports.
  • 3) To buy more stock outright from the three U.S. manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and to encourage production in India of these vaccines.
  • Production of Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines in India, as had been announced during the Quad summit, will take some time.
  • The U.S. companies seem set on getting both an indemnity waiver from India as well as Emergency Use Authorisation prior to supplying them.
  • The Government may also need to make a change to its publicly announced policy that States in India will need to negotiate purchases directly, as the U.S. manufacturers want centralised orders, with payments up-front.

2) Patent waiver

  • The promise of patent waivers, from India’s joint proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) will not reap early benefits.
  • Even though it has received support from world leaders such as the U.S., Russia and China.
  • Many countries including Japan, Australia, Brazil and EU are still holding out on the idea of freeing up intellectual property rights on vaccines for three years.
  • That could ultimately hold up proceedings at the WTO, as it works by consensus.

3) Diplomatic fallout of vaccine collapse

  • The Government has defended its decision to export more than 66 million vaccines doses to 95 countries between January and April this year.
  • All exports were stopped as soon as cases in India began to soar.
  • Both India’s neighbours and partners in Africa as well as global agencies depending on India for vaccines have been left in the lurch by the Government’s failure to balance its vaccine budget.
  • For example, once India completed delivery of the first batch, of 550,000 Covishield doses, Bhutan completed the administration of the first dose to 93% of its population in a record 16 days.
  • Two months later, Bhutan does not have any vaccines to complete the second dose and has been left requesting other countries for vaccines.
  • It is no surprise that each of India’s neighbours has now sought help from China and the U.S. to complete their vaccination drives.

4) Tracing virus pathways

  • India, as one of the worst pandemic-hit countries, must be at the forefront of demanding accountability on the origin of the virus.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) which studied “pathways of emergence” of SARS-CoV2 in Wuhan, listed four possibilities:
  • 1) Direct zoonotic transmission.
  • 2) An intermediate host.
  • 3) Cold chain or transmission through food.
  • 4) A laboratory incident.
  • China appears adamant on blocking these studies.
  • Even the U.S. appears to have dragged its feet on a conclusive finding, possibly because the U.S. National Institutes of Health had funded some of the Wuhan Institute’s research.

Way forward on virus pathways

  • India must call for a more definitive answer and also raise its voice for a stronger convention to regulate any research that could lead, by accident or design, to something as the current pandemic.
  •  It is necessary to revamp the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention to institute an implementation body to assess treaty compliance, and build safer standards for the future.

Consider the question “How different was the impact of two Covid-19 waves on India’s diplomacy? What are the challenges India faces in the near future in dealing with the fallout of the pandemic?”

Conclusion

With its seat at the UN Security Council as non-permanent member and its position on WHO’s Executive Board, India could seek to regain the footing it has lost over the past few months of COVID-19 mismanagement, by taking a lead role in ensuring the world is protected from the next such pandemic.

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