India became the global epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic after an exponential increase in cases reached 350,000 daily, with 3,000 fatalities per day, topping nearly 6 million cases in one week only.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Coronavirus cases have increased and topped nearly 100,000 cases per day in September 2020, but the curve fell to less than 15,000 daily cases through March this year, in a population of 1.37 billion inhabitants (two-thirds of them living in informality) and one-third of the world's population.
This led to new opening measures that allowed in person religious holidays that can agglomerate crowds of 25 million people, political events and meetings for elections in certain states, as well as the reopening of public areas. This triggered the contagions that placed the Asian country on the brink of collapse, without oxygen and with cremations performed on the streets.
But India is not just any country. It is a pharmaceutical industry superpower and a key player in the global vaccination process, and has strategic agreements with the US, UK and is also making its own vaccine.
In this context, the question is what leads a superpower in this field, such as India, to suffer such a collapse.
LPO spoke with Sabrina Olivera, PhD in Foreign Relations, specializing in Indian issues, who explained that "these figures, which represent a global record, show that India lowered its guard in the face of the few cases they had until last month. However, in 3 days, cases added up to one million infections, totaling 17 million persons infected since the beginning of the pandemic and 198,000 deaths."
"The figures should be analyzed in comparison with the Indian population, but this does not mean that the figures do not represent a health collapse. In addition, certain groups allege an underestimation of these records and mention that actual cases can be up to 5 times more that reported," she added.
On the other hand, PhD in Economics and researcher Manuel Gonzalo noted that "you have to take into account the structural heterogeneity of the country. On the one hand it is the most affected by this new wave and at the same time it is top three in the pharmaceutical industry. India's scale and the capabilities accumulated after its independence, allows it to be competitive in the pharmaceutical sector and to be a strong global player. However, taking the vaccination process inland is another issue, which has not been yet achieved."
"The causes of the collapse still need to be evaluated, but it revolves around relaxation, overcrowding and new variants of the virus that spreads more easily and affect the younger population as well as a low a vaccination percentage," Gonzalo added.
India's role on the international stage is decisive and expressed on several scales. First, it is a strategic ally of the United States and the United Kingdom at this time of immunization. In the case of the link with Washington, India is a vital pillar of the health diplomacy that Biden wants to carry out to curb the influence of China and Russia.
This consists of two aspects: the distribution of doses that the US does not use (such as that of AstraZeneca that could be sent to Argentina) and the incorporation of the India produced Covaxin in the region. The pilot test of this strategy is Paraguay, which has already received 100,000 doses, with a shortage of doses that, according to LPO, led the Paraguayan leaders to wonder if they should break up with Taiwan to establish relations with China and access the vaccines of that other giant.
In turn, India works in conjunction with the United Kingdom and Oxford-AstraZeneca in the Covishield vaccine, which serves to diversify production and from which Argentina received more than 500,000 doses.
Finally, the Asian country also plays a role in the international community regarding the Covax system, promoted by the World Health Organization and the United Nations, to distribute vaccines to the most vulnerable countries. The health crisis resulted in a lack of 90 million doses between March and April.
In that regard, Olivera said that "as much as India is a generic-producing country, the pandemic, and specially this new wave of infections, demonstrated the challenges of vaccinating as many persons as possible and in the shortest time possible. It is a race against a virus with an unpredictable trajectory, within a health system that was already deficient and with a population of 1.37 billion inhabitants. It's a gigantic task."
Gonzalo noted that "India and the Indian have a central role on the geopolitical board to balance China's power, but also as a market hub, capacity repository and vaccine producer. Its political weight is much stronger than that of Argentina or Brazil."
India's relevance caused all multilateral powers and agencies to start thinking about solutions. The United States promised urgent assistance and the shipment of chemical components to manufacture medicines to the Serum Institute, the world's largest vaccine producer, where the AstraZeneca formula is manufactured in India.
The UK also promised to send respiratory assistance and EU member states joined international aid. "We are working at full speed to take respirators. The whole of Europe is working on it, doing everything it can to help India," Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Regarding the rapid international reaction, Olivera noted that "at the beginning of the pandemic, as a generic-producing country, India was recognized for the sale of medications to the powerful countries. We should recall that hydroxychloroquine was originally believed to be a relevant medicine for the treatment of the virus and, the United States, for example, was one of the first countries to purchase the drug."
"Retribution from Biden's administration and from other relevant countries is to collaborate with assistance. Surely the underlying need is to control the virus and its mutations, but there will also be favors to collect in the future. Everyone is interested in India being China's counterweight in the region, and if it is badly affected by the pandemic, the gap between the two countries - which was already significant - will deepen," she said.
Meanwhile, the Argentine government observes the situation of the world's largest democracy with concern. Argentina and India entered into an agreement in February this year for 580,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, using Oxford - Astrazeneca technology.
In addition, negotiations were initiated with the Bharat Institute of India in order to access the Covaxin vaccine. Both Covishield and Covaxin have shown that, after the first dose, the risk of infection is very low - in the order of 0.04%. A possible export ban on India's part due to its health catastrophe would leave Argentina without these doses.
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